2 guilty, 1 acquitted in prison 'fight club' trial
After acquitting former prison guard Mark Haynes of charges in the York County Prison "fight club" trial, jurors found two other defendants, David Whitcomb Jr. and Daniel Graff, guilty on charges of official oppression, conspiracy to commit official oppression and harassment.
Jurors spent Friday afternoon debating the fate of the three former guards accused of running an inmate "retard olympics" in the supply closet of South Block, where there was no surveillance camera.
Shortly after 6:30 p.m., jurors announced they had reached a verdict in the case of one of the three defendants — Haynes — but were having difficulty reaching a verdict regarding charges against Whitcomb Jr. and Graff.
Hayne's lawyer, Chris Ferro, said they were happy with the outcome.
"We're thankful for the jury's verdict," he said. He could not comment on whether or not Haynes would try to get his job back. He said Haynes lives in New Jersey now.
About 6:50 p.m., presiding Common Pleas Judge Richard K. Renn sent the jury back to deliberate further.
The verdict: Around 8:15, jurors announced they had reached a verdict — Whitcomb and Graff were found guilty on charges of official oppression, criminal conspiracy to commit official oppression and harassment.
A sentencing hearing is set for Feb. 22.
Graff's attorney Steve Rice did not say much after the verdict.
"We just need to evaluate where we are and where we want to go," he said.
Deputy Prosecutor Kelley Nelson said the prosecution was "ecstatic" when Whitcomb and Graff were found guilty. She expressed disappointment that Haynes was acquitted, but said he was "less culpable" because he appeared to be following the other guards' lead. Nelson said although she was disappointed by the jury's decision regarding Haynes, she respected as the evidence just "wasn't there."
The day: The jury began deliberating about 1:20 p.m. after listening to nearly 2½ hours of closing arguments from senior deputy prosecutor Nelson and defense attorneys Ferro, representing Haynes; Korey Leslie, representing Whitcomb; and Rice, representing Graff.
Nelson argued during her closing argument Friday morning that the three guards committed official oppression, conspiracy to commit official oppression and harassment by bribing inmates — including one with mental-health issues — to wrestle each other, allow themselves to be "choked out" by Graff and Whitcomb, allow themselves to be punched or hit in the arms or legs, drink water laced with pepper spray and other "juvenile" antics.
She said inmates had the right to be treated with respect by the corrections officers guarding them, "not to be treated like a bunch of circus freaks."
'Circus antics': Nelson took jurors through a detailed timeline of the alleged "circus antics," which she said happened around May 2013, and played portions of prison surveillance video outside the closet to bolster her argument.
"That video shows exactly what was going on, whether the defense wants to admit it or not," she said. "These men made a mockery ... of our correctional system."
But defense attorneys argued during their closing arguments that the main witnesses in the case, four current or former prison inmates, are known liars who made up the claims.
Attorneys said the inmates had motive to lie, including not incurring the ire of the prison captains who asked them about the goings-on in South Block.
Motive to lie: Rice noted two of the inmates sued the county; so far, one has settled for $40,000. He suggested prison officials wanted someone criminally charged after learning of the allegations because "it's damage-control time."
Ferro said inmates frittering away time in prison have "nothing better to do" than tell, and make up, stories.
"It's a complete fabrication. ... Clearly the lack of evidence proves it," Ferro said. "Don't ever forget, (prison) is an 'us and them' situation."
Ferro also reminded jurors that there was no evidence his client, Haynes, ever participated in the antics and spent most of his time inside the control booth in South Block. Nelson later argued Haynes could see what was going on in the supply closet from his post.
Leslie argued the inmates all swore oaths to tell the truth, but lied.
Claims 'unbelievable': He called the four inmates' claims "patently unbelievable" and said their own testimony proves it.
Rice told jurors the guards deserved better from prison officials.
"The prison threw these men under the bus based on the word of a bunch of crooks," he said, with a laundry list of convictions. "The testimony of these (inmates) ... is garbage."
Whitcomb, 30, of Hellam Township, Haynes, 28, formerly of Jacobus, and Graff, 40, of York, no longer work for York County, a county spokesman has said.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com.