Murder convicts from Boardman, Youngstown OK’d for release
YOUNGSTOWN — Despite the pleas of family members of two murder victims, the Ohio Parole Board announced this week it will release two men convicted in the killings — one in Boardman in 1982 and one in Youngstown in 1985.
The decisions mean James L. Hall, 67, formerly of Cleveland, will be released in November, and Willie B. Riley, 55, formerly of Youngstown, will be released in January.
Hall has spent more than 37 years in prison after being sentenced to 25 to 100 years in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court for a 1982 murder in the victim’s home in Boardman.
Riley has been in prison 34 years after being convicted of murder in the Nov. 5, 1985, shooting death of the owner of a store on Broadway Street near the former Westlake housing complex on the North Side on Nov. 5, 1985. Riley was sentenced to 18 years to life in prison.
Family members asked the parole board during a teleconferenced hearing Wednesday morning to keep both inmates in prison longer, but the parole board decided later that day to release them.
Hall was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary in the July 1982 shooting death of Doug Skica, 29, an architect.
Hall, who was from the Cleveland area, was among four men who followed Skica’s father, Dan, home from a restaurant in the Cleveland area to rob him.
When Dan Skica arrived at his Boardman home, Hall and another man pistol-whipped him. The two other suspects stayed in the car.
Doug Skica let the men into the house when they threatened to shoot his father, and they beat Doug and Dan Skica.
One of the assailants stayed in the kitchen with the father while the other led Doug to a bedroom where the man assaulted Doug’s younger brother. Doug tried to intervene, fighting with the man.
In the moments to follow, both assailants fired guns at Doug. One of the shots struck Doug in the face, killing him, according to Vindicator files.
Judy Arnaut, victim witness advocate for the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s office, said she was not involved in the cases when they happened, but the part that impacted her the most is that both killings happened when individuals forced themselves into a family’s home.
“Both of the people murdered were in their own homes,” she said.
Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains and family members participated in the hearings by teleconference. The parole board members participated in the hearing by teleconference in Columbus. Normally the family members of the victims have to travel to Columbus for such hearings, but teleconferencing is being done because of COVID-19, Arnaut said.
In the Youngstown killing, Riley was living on Griffith Street at the time he and another man went to the D&M Food Market on Broadway Street and killed the store’s owner, Mohammed Awadalla, 28, by shooting him in the head during a robbery.
Police Chief Robin Lees had been a Youngstown police officer seven years at the time and was working narcotics in plainclothes when the shooting was reported.
Lees and his partner, Bill Powell, responded to the store before road officers could get there and saw no activity outside the building, which had living quarters upstairs.
They entered the store, seeing a woman weeping a short distance from the counter. Also present was a man telling the woman to “shut up,” Lees said. The man then realized that two police officers were pointing guns at him.
Then they saw a second man behind the counter taking cigarettes and other items — “basically looting the place,” Lees said.
One of the men told the officers in an attempt to escape that there was “a guy in the back that needs help.” But the officers instead saw that Awadallah was on the floor behind the counter dead with a gunshot wound.
They detained the two men, but police later learned they did not commit the killing. Instead, they had been near the store when the killers went inside, killed the owner and ran off.
“These two decide to loot the store. They are walking over the body, stepping in his blood and stealing cigarettes,” Lees said incredulously.
The two men still in the store when Lees and Powell arrived were arrested and charged, but it’s unknown what charges they faced.
“In my opinion, anybody involved in that crime should not be getting out of prison,” Lees said.
Riley, then 20, and another man, Ricky Bryant, 23, also of Griffith Street, were arrested a couple of days later.