SCI-Greene cellmate charged in death

May 23, 2014

WAYNESBURG – Charges were filed Friday in the Jan. 10 death of SCI-Greene inmate Ronald Yarbough, 22, of Cresson.

Yarbough’s cellmate, Raphael Spearman, 24, of Philadelphia was charged with criminal homicide, aggravated assault and assault by prisoner. An autopsy on Yarbough was performed Jan. 11 by forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, who determined the cause of death to be asphyxiation.

Corrections officers found Yarbough unresponsive in a cell he shared with Spearman in the special-needs unit of the prison. They had been housed together for a very short time, according to Tracy Shawley, public information officer for SCI-Greene.

State Police Cpl. Andrew Zimmer said Spearman had cuts on his face and hands he claimed were inflicted by Yarbough. Spearman was treated for these injuries in the prison’s medical department, but Zimmer did not specify how Spearman received the cuts.

According to Zimmer, there are no cameras inside the cells of inmates but they are located in the common areas, such as the hallway leading up to the cell.

Spearman is currently serving a sentence of 6 to 16 years after a May 22, 2010, arrest by the Philadelphia police department for possessing a firearm without a license. Yarbough was in SCI-Greene for the aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer in Cambria County in 2010. He pleaded guilty in 2012 and was sentenced to 1 to 4 years.

Court records indicate Yarbough underwent multiple mental health evaluations and, Sept. 13, 2012, was being held in Cambria County jail pending an appropriate evaluation by Cambria County Mental Health Department for placement in a mental health residence.

Special-needs units of the Department of Corrections were established to provide a safe and secure setting, along with specialized treatment services for inmates identified as being unable to function in a general population housing unit. An inmate in this category may include someone diagnosed as mentally ill, emotionally unstable, mentally, physically or developmentally challenged, according to the DOC.

A preliminary arraignment is scheduled for 10:45 a.m. May 30 before Greene County Magisterial District Judge Glenn Bates.

Tara Kinsell started her career in journalism with the National Geographic Insider Magazine and the Gaithersburg Gazette Newspaper in Montgomery County, Md. Tara has written and photographed sports, features and news stories for the Herald Standard, Greene County Messenger and Albert Gallatin Weekly. She holds degrees in journalism and graphic design from Waynesburg College, now Waynesburg University, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, respectively.

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