In 1989, Keith LaMar (aka Bomani Shakur) was sent to prison at age 19 for murder. He had been living in Cleveland, Ohio, where he sold drugs as a means of survival in the Crack-infested streets he knew as home. On a day that would forever change his life, Keith was robbed at gunpoint and exchanged gunfire with his robbers. He was shot twice in his legs and hit one of the other men in the chest. That young man, one a childhood friend, died. Keith pled guilty and was sent to prison for 18 years-to-life.
Four years later, Keith was attempting to put together the broken pieces of his life at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, hoping for another chance at life. It was an Easter Sunday, and the weather had just turned warmer; Keith and about 400 other men were outside exercising in the rec-yard when commotion broke out inside and it became clear that some type of protest was underway. Keith made a quick decision to slip inside for a few minutes to secure his personal belongings (since his cell assignment was in the area being taken over). Once back out in the yard, he and the others waited to see what would transpire, watching as the bodies of several men were dumped onto the yard.
As Easter came to an end, the Ohio State Highway Patrol rounded up those on the yard and secured them into another part of the facility. Prison records prove that Keith was among them. Though no one could have predicted what exactly was happening, or how it would all result, and 11-day siege ensued. In the end, nine inmates and one guard ultimately lost their lives. When the dust began to settle, the State of Ohio needed someone on whom to pin several of the early inmate deaths. This is where Keith’s troubles began…
A few months later, several prisoners were enticed with the promise of early paroles and/or dropped charges if only they would come up with a reasonable story to help the State sweep up the “mess” at their out-of-control prison. They determined Keith would be the fall guy, and they pointed their fingers at him. Thus, to make it all come together convincingly, the prosecution withheld actual confessions from his defense, as well as eyewitness statements that contradicted their fabricated version of events. In spite of zero DNA or forensic evidence, they moved forward with their accusations against Keith. In fact, they made sure his trial would be racially biased in their favor by calling for the removal of the few potential black jurors, and by holding his trial in an all-white county in southern Ohio. In spite of having no motive to kill anyone, no actual proof connecting him, nor any affiliation with any of the groups organizing the uprising, the jury didn’t take long to find Keith LaMar guilty of the murder of five of the inmates. He was sentenced to death.
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Keith’s is a story about racialized injustice, State corruption, struggle, perseverance and truth. He has laid it all out in Condemned, a soulful, fiery, and captivating book. In it, he traces how the prosecutors fabricated a case against him, then goes on to dismantle their lies by highlighting their inconsistencies. Keith shows clearly how his Constitutional rights were violated by the State of Ohio’s willful withholding of evidence favorable to his defense. Most importantly, he compels readers to consider their place within the larger social system, inviting those who would stand on the side of social justice to join him, not just on his behalf, but also for the countless nameless, faceless people caught up in the struggle for humanity.
A documentary film that focuses on the State’s intentional railroading of Keith was made available online in October of 2014. In just 36 short minutes, many of the issues about what happened in Keith’s legal case are illuminated. The film was updated in 2019 and can be viewed by following this link.