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State News

Prosecutors want video testimonies in escape trial


ELYRIA - Three convicted killers slated to testify during the October trial of a fourth murderer accused of trying to escape from Lorain Correctional Institution won't have to appear in court to be witnesses in the case if prosecutors and sheriff's deputies have their way.

Instead, the men would be able to testify in John Michael Robinson's trial through a video link between Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Raymond Ewers' courtroom and the Ohio State Penitentiary where they are incarcerated.

Sheriff's Capt. Richard Resendez said he believes the county and prison system have the technological ability to offer the video link, and it could reduce security concerns about bringing three murderers to the county.

"Security is the No. 1 issue," he said.

Robinson has asked his attorney to subpoena Jason Robb, who is on death row for his role in the death of a prison guard and a fellow prisoner while he was a leader of the Aryan Brotherhood during the 1993 uprising at the Southern Ohio Correction Facility in Lucasville.

Also on Robinson's witness list are Martin Scott, who is serving a life prison term for the 1994 shooting death of his father-in-law, and Chris Rowe, who is also serving a life term for killing an acquaintance during a 2001 argument. Scott is eligible for parole in 2041, while Rowe could be released as soon as 2016.

Bill Willis, Robinson's attorney, said his client hasn't told him why he wants the three killers on his witness list. None of the three were at Lorain Correctional when Robinson allegedly tried to escape by hiding in a prison trash container on Sept. 8, 2008.

Although Willis said he understands the security concerns of prosecutors and deputies, it would be unfair to his client for defense witnesses to have to testify over a video link. A jury needs to be able to see a witness in the flesh to gauge whether to believe them, something that is lost in video testimony, Willis said.

"They have to judge the demeanor of a witness," he said. "How do they do that when all they see is a talking head on a TV screen?"

But county Prosecutor Dennis Will said his office has been prepared to use video technology in the past. A nurse who was a key witness in a sex abuse case was prepared to testify via video uplink from Italy, he said. That case ended in a plea bargain and the nurse never needed to testify.

"I would disagree that somehow it's not fair," he said.

Also, county Common Pleas Judge James Burge utilized a video uplink for an expert on lethal injection who couldn't make it to court during the controversial hearings Burge held on the death penalty last year.

Willis has questioned the need to prosecute Robinson, 32, who is serving two consecutive life prison terms plus another 19 years for a string of robberies in Ottawa and Sandusky counties that left two store clerks dead and a bartender wounded in 2000. He is not eligible for parole.

If convicted of the attempted escape charge, Robinson could get an additional five years in prison.

Resendez said he couldn't comment about the details of other security measures or concerns surrounding Robinson's trial.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-714  or bdicken@chroniclet.com.

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