- Associated Press - Thursday, December 25, 2014

CLEVELAND (AP) - Dessalines Weaver said he believes strongly enough in the cause of trying to free older and often infirm prison inmates that it’s easy to sacrifice a portion of his Christmas Day to hold a protest in front of an empty state office building.

Thursday’s protest rally, attended by about 30 people, marked the second consecutive Christmas that the Universal Support Network rallied in front of the downtown Columbus offices of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Weaver, who lives in Cincinnati, started the group with his cousin Norman Whiteside, who’s serving a sentence of 19 to 37 years for his 1986 conviction on charges of conspiracy to commit aggravated murder and forgery.

“I developed Universal Support Network to be the voice of the voiceless,” Weaver said during an interview this week.

Weaver said he and his group find it unconscionable that Ohio won’t release older inmates who have served for decades and no longer pose threats to anyone.

“Some of these guys have been down 40 years and can hardly walk,” Weaver said.

A jury convicted Whiteside, now 61, for his role in the 1982 shooting death of college student Laura Carter. She and two other women were sitting in the backseat of her parents’ car as her father unknowingly drove near two rival gangs engaged in a shootout in Columbus. Whiteside was accused of leading one of the gangs and for having purchased the gun that fired the fatal shot.

Carter’s death at age 18 inspired musician Christopher Cross to write the 1983 hit song “Think of Laura.” Cross was dating Carter’s college roommate at Denison University near Columbus when she was killed.

Whiteside also has a musical connection. One of his recordings from the 1970s was sampled by Kanye West for a song that recently received a Grammy Award nomination in the rap category.

The parole board refuses to free Whiteside because of his legal work on behalf of other inmates, Weaver said. A state prison spokeswoman previously cited Whiteside’s misconduct in prison.

Weaver said former prosecutor Patrick Sheeran, who handled Whiteside’s case and is now a Franklin County Common Pleas judge, has a vendetta against his cousin.

Sheeran acknowledged in an interview that he, Whiteside’s trial judge and another prosecutor have written letters to the parole board opposing his release. But Sheeran said he would not oppose Whiteside’s parole when he becomes eligible next year.

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