Inmate convicted in riot released on parole
One guard and nine inmates were killed during the melee.
CLEVELAND (AP) -- The state has paroled an inmate who testified against five others involved in a deadly prison riot, a decision defense lawyers claim was based on the man's cooperation with prosecutors.
Roger Snodgrass, 36, of Cincinnati, was released Friday from the Toledo Correctional Institution. He could have been in prison until 2019 on the five- to 25-year sentence he received in the slaying of a fellow inmate at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.
One guard and nine inmates were killed during the 11-day riot in April 1993 at the maximum-security prison. Snodgrass' testimony helped send inmates Jason Robb, James Were, Carlos Sanders and George Skatzes to death row in the slaying of guard Robert Vallandingham.
Snodgrass also testified against Aaron Jefferson, who is serving 20 years to life for aggravated murder.
'Deal with the devil'
"Prosecutors say, 'We'll make a deal with the devil if we can get someone worse,'" Richard Kerger, a Toledo defense lawyer who once represented Sanders, told The Plain Dealer for a story Monday. "Well, that's what happened with Snodgrass. It seems almost perverse."
The state and the chief prosecutor in the case deny that Snodgrass received preferential treatment. Twice after Snodgrass cooperated, the Ohio Parole Board declined to release him from prison.
Mark Piepmeier, the chief prosecutor in the Lucasville cases, said he wrote a letter to the parole board outlining Snodgrass' actions during the riot and his help afterward, as he has done for others who cooperated.
"He was very consistent as a witness," Piepmeier said. "He never shied away from what he did, and we never caught him in a lie."
Parole board spokeswoman Andrea Dean said Snodgrass had served more than the minimum for killing inmate Earl Elder and had compiled a good work history in prison.
Snodgrass pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the death of Elder, who was stabbed with a homemade ice pick, according to court records.
Snodgrass also was charged with kidnapping two guards during the uprising, but those charges were dropped in exchange for his testimony.
"He did a bang-up job as a witness," said attorney Jeffry Kelleher, who represented Skatzes. "He was young and well-spoken. He did a marvelous job for prosecutors."
Snodgrass' criminal history dates to his youth in Cincinnati, with nine convictions in juvenile court for beatings, drug peddling and burglaries, records show.
At the time of the riot, Snodgrass was serving five to 25 years on an aggravated robbery conviction he received as a 17-year-old.
Snodgrass served his first few years at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield before he was transferred to Lucasville at age 21 and joined the Aryan Brotherhood for protection.
"He was a young, tough kid, but he was no match for those wolves," Piepmeier said.
Piepmeier said he believes Snodgrass testified because he was tired of being a pawn for the Aryan Brotherhood. Defense lawyers claim Snodgrass had more selfish motives.
He testified in Robb's case that he became an informant to save himself from additional charges and more years in prison.
"This shows that if you go along with the state, you get a break. If you don't, you get the death penalty or a long prison sentence," said lawyer Staughton Lynd, who wrote the book, "Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising."