CLEARFIELD – After deliberating for over five hours Tuesday, jurors were deadlocked and couldn’t reach any verdict in a trial of a state prison inmate accused of assaulting corrections officers during the April of 2015 riot at the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale.
Isaiah Samir Lakeem Hall, 26, an inmate of state prison, was standing trial on charges of criminal conspiracy/aggravated assault and aggravated assault, six counts each; criminal conspiracy/assault by prisoner, assault by prisoner, conspiracy/simple assault and simple assault, three counts each; conspiracy/riot; and riot.
Clearfield County District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. presented the case on behalf of the commonwealth. Hall was represented by defense attorney Ryan P. Sayers. Senior Judge David E. Grine specially presided over the trial.
According to previously published reports, officers responded to break up an inmate-on-inmate assault at 2:30 p.m. April 28, 2015 in the south yard at SCI Houtzdale. One inmate, Richard Adams, disregarded all commands to cuff up, taking a “fighting stance” and being combative.
After Adams was taken down by three unarmed officers, inmates swarmed them and started to beat, kick and stomp on them. Hall was allegedly among the population of inmates who participated in the assault and riot.
After being sent into deliberations shortly before noon, the jury returned to the courtroom about 40 minutes later with two questions. Jurors asked to watch the video of the inmates assaulting the officers and to take Hall’s boots into their deliberations.
While watching the video, jurors asked to leave the jury box to have a closer look. At times, they asked Shaw to play the video frame-by-frame and to pause it. One juror specifically asked for the video to be stopped when the suspect’s face was visible.
Jurors notified the court of another question at approximately 3 p.m., and asked for the transcript of the testimony given by the SCI Houtzdale security officer who was the only witness to identify Hall in the video.
While jurors couldn’t be provided the transcript, court officials did set up to play an audio recording of the officer’s testimony. Jurors then resumed deliberations after the playback but returned at approximately 4:39 p.m., and Grine announced they were deadlocked.
He asked jurors to return to their deliberations and to indicate on the verdict slips, which charges they were in agreement on a verdict, if any. He also told them to put question marks next to any charges they couldn’t agree upon.
When court reconvened the final time at approximately 5:07 p.m., jurors advised they were still deadlocked on all charges. Grine asked if they felt it would change if they returned in the morning. They did not and were excused from their duty.
“I am very happy that the jury took their time,” said Sayers. “I think they had an issue identifying the [suspect] inmate in the video as my client and with accepting the commonwealth’s position.”
In a media interview, Shaw said it only takes one or two jurors to hold out, and he intends to put the case before a new jury panel as early as the next term of court.
“This happens and we are disappointed with the result,” he said, “… but we are absolutely determined to get justice. The corrections officers up there at Houtzdale deserve it.”
Before the commonwealth rested its case Tuesday morning, jurors heard testimony from Brad McLaughlin of the state police’s Erie Crime Laboratory. He examined Hall’s boots for the presence of blood and tested several areas.
McLaughlin found blood on the right heel and prepared a sample from the boots. The blood sample and a sergeant’s DNA sample were forwarded to the state police’s Greensburg-based laboratory for further analysis.
Angelina Biondi of the state police’s Greensburg Crime Laboratory said she received the sergeant’s DNA – a known sample – and the blood from Hall’s boots – a question sample. She testified that the sergeant’s DNA matched the blood sample from Hall’s boots.
Trooper David Patrick, a criminal investigator with the state police at Clearfield, was the last witness for the commonwealth. On April 28, 2015, the station was requested to send any available troopers to an inmate-on-staff assault and possible riot at SCI Houtzdale.
Patrick said troopers were mobilized at the prison from not only the Clearfield barracks, but also from Rockview and Philipsburg. “It was a very large response from the Pennsylvania State Police,” he told jurors, and they established a perimeter around the prison.
He also said that the Department of Corrections called in additional resources, such as specialized response and negotiation teams. After the DOC regained control of SCI Houtzdale, he was assigned to conduct the criminal investigation.
He conducted interviews with staff and inmates who were allegedly involved and also collected other information and evidence. Patrick said so far, he’s filed charges against six inmates.
Under cross-examination, Sayers questioned why others who were involved have not been charged in the riot. Patrick said he’s prepared additional criminal complaints, which are waiting to be filed.
Under re-direct, Patrick explained how charges are being filed against two or three inmates at a time, and this is being done methodologically to keep from “bogging down” the court system and creating manpower problems for the department.
He said as many as 25 – 30 inmates have been identified through the video and may eventually be charged for their part in the assault/riot. However, he said the DOC, state police and the court system cannot handle prosecuting all of the inmates at once.
Hall didn’t testify in his own defense. Sayers didn’t present any defense witnesses.
In his closing arguments, Sayers began telling jurors that Hall’s justice was in their hands. He pointed out that the video of the riot shown by the commonwealth was grainy and pixelated and it was up to them to decide if the right inmate was on trial.
Sayers also argued that Hall wasn’t identified by any of the officers that he allegedly assaulted. He said the commonwealth was relying on the testimony of a security officer who wasn’t there and who identified Hall when he watched the video.
He recalled the testimony of the same officer who admitted that every inmate wears the same hat, shirt, jacket and pants, and that 30 – 40 percent of the inmates wear Timberland boots. He said the officer testified that a “whole bunch” of inmates match Hall’s physical description.
Sayers concluded that if Hall got blood on his boots during the assault, it was reasonable to expect a larger amount of blood with three officers being beaten, kicked and stomped on. He said inmates were in the south yard for eight hours and he could have stepped in the blood.
In his closing, Shaw said Hall viciously kicked and stomped on the officers, which caused severe injuries and permanently debilitated them. He said the security officer confidently testified “I know that’s him,” that’s Isaiah Hall, and the sergeant’s DNA matched the blood sample from Hall’s boots.
Hall is serving a 5- to 15-year sentence for a robbery. He is two years beyond his minimum sentence, and currently being housed at SCI Benner, according to Shaw.