Coronavirus: First Ohio inmate to die grew up in area

The first state prison inmate to die of COVID-19 was raised in Springfield, sentenced for murder in Clark County as a 19-year-old, and later had that life sentence commuted by former Ohio Gov. Dick Celeste in 1985.

But Charles Viney Jr., while out of prison in 1990, would stab two men during a fight in Chillicothe and was returned to the system where he died from coronavirus on Saturday.

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Viney, 66, was a prisoner at the Pickaway Correctional Institution, where this week two more inmates likely died of COVID-19, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday.

About 49,000 inmates are housed in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction facilities. At Pickaway, 132 inmates and 39 staff tested positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Altogether, 273 inmates and 159 staff have tested positive and 21,021 inmates in Ohio-run prisons were quarantined as of Wednesday, according to the department. Five inmates at a federal prison in Elkton have now died from COVID-19.

DeWine also announced the release of 105 non-violent offenders with 90 days or less left on sentences with the exception of those serving time for homicide, kidnapping, sex offenses, domestic violence and others. Inmates who have been denied judicial release, served prior prison terms, sentenced for interstate crimes or have had serious parole violations were also excluded, he said.

Viney was raised with four brothers and two sisters in Springfield, and attended South High School, said his sister Kim Salah of Dayton.

Although Viney had been in poor health, his living conditions likely contributed to her brother contracting the virus, Salah said.

“I asked him about it the last time I emailed him. He was in a dorm setting,” Salah said. “So there are germs all around anyway. Every time somebody would get a cold it would be serious for him because of the condition he was in.”

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Salah said her brother had been sick for about a year and on oxygen for a collapsed lung.

Viney, who was in the end stage of a chronic illness, died at the prison Saturday, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. He received a test for coronavirus on Friday, and the testwas positive, a spokeswoman said.

Viney pleaded guilty to first degree murder in the April 19, 1972 shooting death of Thomas Thornton, then a 26-year-old employee of the D&D Carryout on Selma Road in Springfield, according to a Dayton Daily News story.

Another man was with Viney during the robbery attempt and was also charged. But Viney, 18 at the time, was the one who shot Thornton in the chest about 1 p.m., and he died later that Sunday, according to newspaper reports.

Celeste commuted Viney’s life sentence on the recommendation of a parole board in 1985.

At the time Celeste commuted Viney’s sentence, a prison spokesperson said Viney had a substance use disorder when he entered prison but had been rehabilitated and was a model prisoner who assisted other inmates with drug problems, according to a 1985 report in the Dayton Journal Herald. The paper also reported Viney had attended classes at Marion Technical College and graduated summa cum laude in business.

But Viney wasn’t released until February of 1987, according to a story in the Chillicothe Gazette published in 1991 when Viney was sentenced for the 1990 stabbings of two men during a fight in an alley in that city.

Steve Schumaker, the Clark County prosecutor in 1991, told the Gazette he was puzzled by Viney’s release but said a letter-writing campaign and protests by the Springfield community, and the victim’s family probably kept Viney from getting released sooner.

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Salah recalled her brother having a problem with drugs, but also being a good athlete.

Newspaper reports show Viney was a top area wrestler at Springfield South, earning a third-team slot at the 145-pound weight classification on the 1971 Daily News All-Miami Valley Wrestling Squad, according to the newspaper.

“He was a good person at heart,” Salah said.

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