Janice Morse reports:
Ryan Widmer will find out Monday whether he gets a fourth trial in the bathtub-drowning of his wife.
The Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals in Middletown will file its decision on the first of two appeals at 9 a.m. Monday in Warren County Common Pleas Court, Scot Ritter, an appeals court official, said Friday. A three-judge panel at the Middletown court has been working on the decision since hearing arguments in April.
Widmer’s appellate lawyer, Michele Berry, on Friday said: “The court absolutely should grant a new trial. That’s what I expect to hear when the decision is announced. Law enforcement unlawfully seized the bathtub and used junk science to convict Ryan Widmer. Although there were many other serious errors, the egregiousness of these two errors alone warrants a new trial.”
Attempts to obtain comment from Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell were unsuccessful Friday.
After a Warren County jury convicted Widmer of murder in February 2011, Widmer began serving a prison term of 15 years to life.
In a case that drew national publicity, that verdict followed two controversial mistrials. But in the third trial, jurors were convinced that evidence showed Widmer had drowned his wife, Sarah, 24, in the bathtub of their Hamilton Township home. They had been married only about four months at the time of her death in August 2008.
Widmer, now 31, and his supporters continue to protest that he was wrongfully convicted.
Berry has argued that police unlawfully removed the bathtub from the Widmer home 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.
Prosecutors argued that absence of his prints on the tub was evidence that it had been wiped clean after the forced drowning. They also presented a criminalist’s testimony about unidentified “streaks” and a “forearm mark,” and argued those marks were proof of a violent struggle.
There is no scientific foundation for those conclusions, Berry argued. She says the testimony therefore was improper and unfairly prejudiced the jury against Widmer, violating his right to a fair trial.
“The law is very clear,” Berry said. “However, if the court disagrees, we’ll relentlessly move forward with an appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court. We won’t see an end to this until Ryan is free.”
Regardless of how the appellate judges rule Monday, a second appeal is still pending. That appeal mostly focuses on issues that arose after he was convicted last year.
That appeal asserts that authorities improperly withheld information calling into question the credibility of the lead investigator on the case, Jeff Braley, who resigned from the Hamilton Township Police Department in 2011 after an independent investigator said the township had reason to question his honesty.
The appeals court is also considering whether to force prosecutors to allow genetic testing of blood from Sarah Widmer.
Because she was cremated, prosecutors possess the only possible evidence available to test for genetic conditions such as “Long QT Syndrome,” a heart-rhythm disturbance that Berry thinks could have led to Sarah’s drowning. Sarah Widmer had a cleft palate and other features associated with that syndrome.
Prosecutors oppose the testing, saying Widmer’s trial lawyers made a mistake by not asking for it earlier. They also argue that the testing shouldn’t be allowed because even if Sarah Widmer tests positive for the syndrome, that doesn’t disprove murder.
- Widmer’s lawyer: Lead detective had history of lying
- Second Widmer appeal filed
- Widmer hearing focuses on bathtub
- Three-judge panel reviewing Widmer conviction
- Widmer lawyer vows fight after fourth trial denied
- Widmer lawyers: Bathtub seized improperly
- Ryan Widmer: “I’ll never give up”
- Ryan Widmer found guilty of murder