Vindicator Logo

Prison inmate speaks against his incarceration during trial

Friday, January 25, 2013

By John W. Goodwin Jr.


Jurors heard opening statements, and the occasional rant against the prison system, from a man on trial for assaulting officers in the prison where he is housed.

Cornelius Harris, 27, of Hamilton, is an inmate in the Ohio State Penitentiary on the city’s East Side and on trial for felonious assault stemming from altercations with prison guards. The case is being tried in the courtroom of Judge Maureen A. Sweeney of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

Testimony resumes today.

Harris was represented by Atty. Mark Lavelle, but he fired the lawyer, opting to represent himself. The court ordered Lavelle to remain present as Harris’ legal adviser. He sat nearby in the audience Thursday as Harris presented his case.

Prosecutors contend that Harris, who entered the penitentiary in 2007, shoved one guard down a flight of steps and attempted to stab a guard on at least one other occasion.

Harris is serving a 97-year prison term for vandalism, aggravated robbery, robbery, felonious assault and judicial sanctions for crimes outside the Mahoning Valley.

Harris, surrounded by as many as seven prison guards and county deputies, read a prepared statement for the jury in his opening statements.

“I have been in prison for a long time now, and I never expected prison to be easy, but the way I have been treated by guards has crossed the line to inhumane,” was a statement Harris made to the jury panel of nine women and three men before an objection from Robert Andrews, an assistant county prosecutor.

Judge Sweeney reminded Harris multiple times to limit his opening statements to what he believed the evidence in the case would show.

Harris told the court he would show video evidence of altercations inside the prison. He said some of the videos will show him “acting out” but also will show the ongoing issues between himself and prison guards.

In the altercation where he is accused of pushing a guard down a flight of steps, Harris said he managed to remove his hands from his handcuffs and punched the guard twice causing the guard to run and fall down the steps. He said the guard was never pushed.

Prosecutors presented several witnesses from the prison, including an investigator who looked into the allegations against Harris and the officer who was purportedly shoved down the steps.

Harris asked the investigator if he ever doctored video surveillance to make guards look good. The investigator said video is never doctored for any reason.