MANSFIELD, Ohio – A man who was adopted as a child and spent the past year researching his ancestry discovered that his biological father is on Ohio's death row for killing a corrections officer and two others in the state's worst prison riot.
Sean Baker, 41, met his father, George Skatzes, 62, for the first time in March at the Mansfield Correctional Institution, where Skatzes is being held while he appeals his death sentence.
Baker, a truck driver who lives in Henderson, Ky., said he was initially disturbed to learn that his father is a convicted murderer but now believes in his innocence.
"Dad's totally different than what people see of him," Baker said. "There's still a lot of good in Dad and people need to see that."
Prosecutors considered Skatzes a leader in the 11-day riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville in 1993, in which nine inmates were killed along with corrections officer Robert Vallandingham.
Skatzes, who was already serving a life sentence for a 1983 aggravated murder conviction, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the murder of Vallandingham and to death for the killings of inmates Earl Elder and David Sommers. He also was convicted of kidnapping the three.
Baker said he believes his father was unfairly convicted in the Lucasville case because prosecutors made deals with other inmates to become informants, and those inmates told lies about Skatzes' involvement. The state has previously denied that inmate informants received preferential treatment.
A message seeking comment was left Thursday for Mark Piepmeier, who was the chief prosecutor in the Lucasville cases.
"Everybody looks at my father as a bad person. They don't know the truth," Baker said. "I wouldn't stick up for him if I thought my father was guilty."
Baker began researching his ancestry in December by posting an online plea at the Ohio Adoption Registry, a Web site that provides a way for adopted Ohioans and their biological families to find one another.
It worked. Baker located a brother and a sister, who told him about his birth father.
Baker said he wrote his father and shared a few phone calls before their prison meeting March 29.
"It was very emotional," Baker said. "We latched onto each other and never let go for about half an hour."
The meeting also gave Baker a chance to ask his father face-to-face how he ended up being adopted.
"He was 21 years old when I was born," said Baker, who has four children of his own. "Dad was in his rowdy days, not wanting to settle down. Things just didn't work out the way they were supposed to."
The two continue to write each other every week and talk by telephone.
Baker said they don't talk about the death penalty.
Baker plans to change his name legally to George Skatzes Jr. to reflect his lineage, and he continues to hope his father's death sentence will be overturned.
"I love my father very much," Skatzes said. "It's just the way it is right now. We'll straighten it out."