Lima man freed after state fails to prove alleged threats

May 2—LIMA — A Lima man who served 27 years of a 40-year prison sentence before gaining a judicial release in March of last year avoided a trip back behind bars on Thursday.

Lashone Ward, 53, was faced with the prospect of returning to prison after prosecutors alleged he violated the terms of his judicial release sanctions by approaching and threatening corrections officers employed by Allen-Oakwood Correctional Institution. Following a two-and-a-half hour hearing before Allen County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Reed, which included testimony from two corrections officers, it was determined the state failed to prove the allegations against Ward.

The judge ordered Ward freed immediately but did add one year of probation to the three years ordered at the time of the defendant's judicial release. Ward was also ordered to obey a 10 p.m. curfew, obtain employment and have no contact with any corrections officers. Those conditions were on top of existing terms that included the completion of re-entry court and any other program deemed appropriate by the probation department. He was ordered to not consume alcohol or illegal drugs and to stay out of bars.

The original crime

Ward was sentenced in 1997 on charges of armed robbery, aggravated robbery and abduction for his part in a hold-up at Snavely Motor Sales. Two diamond rings as well as other items were stolen from Irene Snavely during the robbery. Ty Snavely, the business owner, and Jay Sprague, the shop mechanic, were forced into the trunk of a car. Irene Snavely was bound and locked in a storage locker.

On May 15, 1997, one of Irene's rings was sold to Jim Raines, the owner of a local jewelry store, who contacted the police. Ward was identified as the seller. Irene Snavely picked Ward out of a photo lineup as one of the men who robbed her. Ty Snavely also identified Ward as one of the robbers.

In August 1997, a jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts. Ward was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Ward appealed his verdict and 40-year prison sentence, but the Third District Court of Appeals rejected his request.

Fast forward 27 years

On March 7 of this year, just a year after he was granted a release from prison, Ward allegedly confronted and threatened Antwaine Roberson, a corrections officer at Allen-Oakwood Correctional Institution. Roberson testified he was walking out of his garage on March 7 when he noticed a black Impala with dark-tinted windows driving slowly down the street. The car stopped and the driver — identified as Ward — exited the vehicle and approached Roberson.

The correction officer testified the exchange was "not a friendly encounter" and said he felt uncomfortable when Ward brought up an incident that occurred in prison. Asked by defense attorney Kenneth Rexford if he felt threatened, Roberson said he did not but noted that he wished at the time that he was wearing his firearm.

Roberson's written statement included allegations that Ward made not-so-subtle threats about knowing where other corrections officers lived and stating that "Lima is small and I will find y'all." There was no testimony of that exchange on Thursday.

Also taking the witness stand Thursday was Shawn Wakefield, the institutional investigator at Allen-Oakwood. He told of an early morning encounter at the Lima Waffle House, where Ward approached him with a "smirky" demeanor and made reference to events that took place at the prison but was not threatening. Wakefield said he notified his superiors about the incident, who instructed him to notify probation department personnel.

Ward took the witness stand on his own behalf and denied threatening any officers. He offered a meandering story about his movements on March 7, the day on which he approached Roberson, that Allen County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Josh Carp described as ludicrous and "a complete lie." Ward told the judge he "didn't do nothing nefarious" and has been "doing everything I'm supposed to do" while on judicial release.

Reed ruled the state had not met its burden of proof and ordered Ward released, with the following message: "Leave the past behind you. Don't give me a reason to send you back to prison."