COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An inmate who was strangled in a prison transport van died in a county just south of Columbus, authorities have decided after an investigation that also explored whether the killing in a moving vehicle happened in two other counties.
That determination was important because it will decide where the case is prosecuted. The state hasn’t said anything about security precautions it took with the suspect, who two days before Johnson’s slaying pleaded guilty to crushing a fellow inmate’s head with a cinder block in 2016.
Casey Pigge has pleaded not guilty in Pickaway County court to the Feb. 1 killing of fellow inmate David Johnson. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for July 14.
The case began when the body of the 61-year-old Johnson was discovered after the transport van arrived at the Ross County Correctional Institution in Chillicothe following a trip to Columbus for inmate medical care.
At the time, authorities knew only that Johnson died somewhere between Columbus and Chillicothe, passing through three counties — Franklin, Pickaway and Ross — on the trip.
“When the bus arrived back in Ross County, there was a dead inmate,” Ross County Prosecutor Matthew Schmidt said at the time.
Later, inmates on the van told State Highway Patrol investigators that the killing happened in Franklin or Pickaway counties. Ultimately, a Pickaway County grand jury indicted Pigge on one count of aggravated murder June 2.
Pickaway County was the “proper venue” for the case, the indictment said. A message was left with the county prosecutor seeking comment on the charge. Circleville, the county seat, is 26 miles (42 kilometers) south of Columbus.
Pigge, 29, is currently housed at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, a maximum-security facility. His attorney declined to comment until the hearing later this month.
Two days before Johnson’s slaying, Pigge pleaded guilty to killing a fellow inmate at Lebanon Correctional Institution in 2016 by repeatedly hitting him in the head with a cinder block. Pigge was sentenced to life without parole.
Pigge was in prison at the time for another killing, that of his ex-girlfriend’s mother in 2009 in Ross County.
A prison review team is looking both at Johnson’s slaying and the agency’s inmate transportation policies.
While in the transport van, inmates are positioned in different sections of the van and secured with handcuffs and a chain around their abdomen, but can move from seat to seat within those sections, Schmidt, the Ross County prosecutor, has said.
It wasn’t clear how the slaying occurred if inmates were handcuffed.
Prison records show Johnson was serving an eight-year sentence for sexual battery.
The patrol and prison authorities are also investigating two other prisoner killings this year.
— The fatal beating in March of Donald Harvey, a serial killer dubbed the “Angel of Death,” at the state prison in Toledo. The former nurse’s aide was serving multiple life sentences after admitting in 1987 to killing three dozen hospital patients in Ohio and Kentucky during the 1970s and ’80s.
— The May slaying of 31-year-old inmate Melvin Green in the Lucasville prison.