CHILLICOTHE — A Ross County inmate was found guilty of murder by a jury Wednesday in Ross County Common Pleas Court after an hour of deliberation.
Darryl King, 35, of Eaton, was found guilty of beating his cellmate on February 13, 2022 at Ross Correctional Institution. The victim, Alex Sapp of Newark, was taken to Adena Regional Medical Center, where he later succumbed to his injuries on February 14.
The second day of the two-day trial included testimony from Susan Brown, a forensic pathologist at the Montgomery Coroner’s Office, who performed Sapp’s autopsy. She provided insight into his extensive injuries, including a broken nose and a brain hemorrhage.
During the autopsy, Brown said Sapp had a patterned abrasion on his lip, with the same pattern appearing on him on his head and face multiple times, implying he was hit multiple times with the same object.
Defense attorney Jeff Blosser asked Brown if the injury could have resulted from repeated blows from a piece of furniture, to which Brown said yes.
Brown said it would take “considerable force” to cause Sapp’s injuries. The blunt trauma caused two separate skull fractures. Brown said this type of injury is often seen in car accident victims or those who take a major fall, such as from a flight of stairs.
Sherri Wells, an Ohio State Highway Patrol Investigator, said King had no injuries to his body when she went to jail on Feb. 14. He had red marks on his skin, which Wells described as pressure sores. She said she looked for “anything resembling wrestling” but found nothing.
He did have injuries to his hands and knuckles.
Gathering Sapp’s clothing as evidence, Wells described the shirt as “so saturated with blood” that she had to hang the shirt up to dry.
During her investigation, Wells said she focused on King’s shoes he was wearing at the time of the incident, as she believed the markings on Sapp’s face matched the pattern on King’s shoe.
On Tuesday, Lieutenant Ben Murphy testified that there was blood on the top of the defendant’s right shoe. However, there was no blood on the sole of the shoe. Wells noted that almost immediately after the incident, the defendant had to walk through the snow to get to another cell, which may have inadvertently cleaned blood from his shoe.
King took the stand and began his testimony by clarifying that the small facial tattoo near his eye is a cross in honor of a deceased relative.
The defendant served 36 months in prison for assault, domestic violence and possession. At the time of the incident, he had 28 days left in prison.
Sapp and King had been cellmates for nine days before the incident happened. King admitted that the couple did not have a good relationship.
King said that on the day of the incident, Sapp had smoked synthetic marijuana, also known as K2, on three separate occasions that he witnessed. During the autopsy, Brown said the lab tested Sapp for drugs, but not for K2.
The defendant said that Sapp tried to fight him in their cell because of an argument over the bottom bunk. King said he was trying to de-escalate the situation and stay out of Sapp’s space. But while in bed, King said Sapp grabbed his hair and dragged him out of bed.
King said he choked from behind several times and passed out at one point. He said he was “scared, panicked”. He said he kicked the cell door and screamed for help when Sapp attacked him.
Prosecutor Jeffrey Marks pointed out the height difference between the cellmates, with King standing six feet tall and Sapp standing five feet tall, stating that it would have been difficult for Sapp to strangle King from behind.
King said he then kicked and punched Sapp in self-defense until Sapp fell unconscious.
Marks asked King when he “got the upper hand,” and King replied, “I never got the upper hand.”
Marks also asked, “Have you seen the pictures?” referring to photos of Sapp’s facial injuries.
During Tuesday’s testimony, correctional officer Kaitlin Truitt testified that King said his cellmate fell off the bed after the incident. King admitted to lying to Truitt, but said he was afraid of being sprayed with pepper spray.
He said, “I was in shock and felt like my whole life was over,” when he was later told his cellmate had been pronounced dead. Blosser said the defendant thought of his three children and his elderly mother when he heard Sapp was dead, hoping he could go home to his family.
Marks questioned how the jury can trust King’s testimony since he admitted to lying to correctional officers about what happened in the past.
During the closing arguments, Blosser argued that no one knows what really happened except King.
“Darryl King was in the fight of his life,” said Blosser. “Your ability to defend yourself doesn’t stop at the prison gates… He doesn’t know when help will arrive. What do you do? You have two choices: fight back or submit.”
Blosser further argued that King would not have done this because he was so close to being released from prison.
Marks said a possible motive for King’s actions was his desire to remain in prison, as he admitted that he struggles with substance abuse when not incarcerated. However, King disagreed, saying he was “cocky” about being released.
Marks also added that even if King acted in self-defense, the injuries were highly disproportionate to the danger.
King will be sentenced next month.
Megan Becker is a reporter for the Chillicothe Gazette. Call her at 740-349-1106, email her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @BeckerReporting.
This article originally appeared in Chillicothe Gazette: Ross County inmate found guilty of murdering cellmate