Janice Morse reports:
In an alleged “bathtub murder” case, why was the bathtub itself not listed on a search warrant?
That is one of the major points that Ryan Widmer’s appellate lawyer, Michele Berry, hammered home today during a hearing before the Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals here, arguing police had no right to take the bathtub, which is considered part of the home. She said that, for example, if a crime were committed in a mobile home, police shouldn’t therefore be allowed to seize the entire mobile home. That, she said, would be a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Police never should have removed the tub without a court order — and Widmer’s trial lawyers erred when they failed to file timely objections to admission of the tub, which ended up being a major piece of evidence against Widmer, Berry said.
Assistant Prosecutor Michael Greer argued: “The police officers do not know, cannot list every possible source of fingerprints.” That’s why the search warrant didn’t list the bathtub, he said, although the search warrant did say they were looking for fingerprints.
The presiding judge, Robert Hendrickson, noted: “The search warrant didn’t list one or a couple items. There were multiple items,” yet the bathtub itself was omitted.
Widmer, 31, who is serving 15 years to life in the 2008 bathtub drowning of his wife, protests that he was wrongfully convicted of murder last year. None of his fingerprints were found on the tub, but prosecutors argued that was evidence that the tub had been wiped clean after the drowning of his wife, Sarah, 24. And prosecutors argued that, based on a criminalist’s testimony about unidentified “streaks” and a “forearm mark” — were evidence of a violent struggle. Such evidence lacks a scientific foundation, Berry argued, and that testimony should have been barred from the trial.
About a dozen supporters showed up wearing white to symbolize they believe Widmer is innocent. On the other side of the room sat John Arnold, a Warren County assistant prosecutor who presented evidence against Widmer during all three of his trials.
Greer and Berry each were allotted only 15 minutes of argument time before the three-judge panel today, but both lawyers ended up spending most of that time answering detailed inquiries from the judges.
Gary Widmer, Ryan’s father, said he was impressed that the judges clearly showed they had a detailed knowledge of the case. “That makes me happy,” he said. He also said he’s confident that one day his son will be released and returned home – but Widmer and his supporters are frustrated that the justice system seems to work so slowly.
Widmer has been in prison since being convicted on Feb. 15, 2011, and has two appeals pending with the court.
Today’s hearing marked the first of those appeals.
The judges gave no time estimate on how long it might take for them to render a decision, but most rulings are made several weeks or even several months after oral arguments – and those happen only in select cases. In many cases, the appeals judges make their decisions solely on review of written documents.
The judges are tasked with deciding whether authorities or Widmer’s lawyers made any crucial mistakes that would warrant a reversal of his conviction.
The Enquirer will update this story.