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Published: Thursday, 6/10/2004

Hearing needed to move inmates to Ohio 'supermax' prison

CINCINNATI - Inmates cannot be transferred to Ohio's supermaximum security prison without a hearing to determine if their crimes are serious enough to warrant being held there, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.

But the appeals court panel also widened the scope of offenses for which the state may send prisoners to "supermax," if due process is followed.

"We won on the hearing; we lost on the standards," said Pittsburgh attorney Jules Lobel, who argued the case on behalf of the New York City-based Center for Constitutional Rights, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Lobel said the ruling could affect 400 Ohio prisoners, who may be entitled to an initial hearing or a rehearing, and potentially thousands of others nationwide if other regional appeals courts go along with the 6th Circuit.

JoEllen Culp, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, referred questions about the ruling to the Ohio attorney general's office, which represents the state's prison system. The attorney general's office did not return a call seeking comment.

The center and the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action suit in 2001, alleging that the treatment of inmates at the Ohio State Penitentiary near Youngstown constituted cruel and unusual punishment, and that inmates sometimes were transferred there without a hearing.

It cited 23-hour-a-day lockdown in 90-square-foot cells that had full metal doors instead of bars, and metal strips on the bottom and sides of the doors to prevent inmates from communicating with each other.

In March 2002, U.S. District Judge James Gwin ordered the state to issue new rules for prisoner transfers, including holding hearings.

The state appealed, arguing that Gwin erred by comparing conditions at the supermax prison with conditions at other Ohio prisons. It prevailed on the part of the ruling regarding substantive restrictions on crimes that warrant transfer.

The super-security prison had been opened in 1998, at a cost of $85 million, in response to the deadly inmate riot in 1993 at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.

It was intended to house inmates who have a record of violent behavior against other prisoners. But prisoners said they sometimes were transferred there for a minor infraction, and had no chance to present arguments or witnesses at a hearing.

INDIANAPOLIS - A witness in a murder case who was targeted in another shooting less than a month ago was fatally shot yesterday along with his girlfriend, police said.

Police said an assailant or assailants broke into their home and shot the couple.

Michael Moss, 33, and April Adkisson, 24, were dead at the scene with multiple gun shot wounds, said Indianapolis Police Lt. Paul Ciesielski.

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DETROIT - A judge ruled yesterday that a man accused of killing two Detroit police officers is mentally competent to stand trial.

Eric Marshall, 23, is charged with the shooting deaths of officers Matthew Bowens, 21, and Jennifer Fettig, 26.

"There has been nothing at all to indicate Mr. Marshall has a mental illness," Wayne County assistant prosecutor Elizabeth Walker said in her closing at yesterday's competency hearing before 36th District Judge Jeanette O'Banner-Owens.

Marshall's preliminary examination is scheduled for July 13 in district court.

Fettig and Bowens were shot during a traffic stop early in the morning on Feb. 16. Bowens, 21, was pronounced dead upon arrival at a Detroit hospital, while Fettig, 26, died later in the day.

Marshall was charged with the crime the next day. Judge Mark A. Randon ordered a psychiatric exam following a request by Kerry Jackson, Marshall's attorney.

The results of one exam were released in early May by the state Center for Forensic Psychiatry. Jackson then asked for another doctor retained by him to examine Marshall.

But Jackson said Thursday he was unable to get another doctor to agree to evaluate Marshall due to the high-profile nature of the case.

The evaluation by Dr. Richard Rickman at the state center found that Marshall was competent to stand trial. Rickman noted that Marshall may suffer from some behavior disorders, but nothing that would meet the state's criteria for mental illness, or prevent him from understanding instructions.

As many as five Detroit officers stood around Marshall in the court proceeding - a measure the prosecution said was necessary for safety. Jackson protested the measure as gratuitous intimidation, but the judge allowed it.



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