Janice Morse reports:
UPDATE: The appeal was denied; Ryan Widmer’s murder conviction has been upheld, a three-judge panel of the Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals has ruled.
BEGIN ORIGINAL STORY: An appeals court’s decision Monday will be a pivotal one, determining which path the Ryan Widmer murder case will travel next.
A three-judge panel of the Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals has been considering the appeal since April, when lawyers gave arguments focusing mostly on whether authorities illegally seized the bathtub where Widmer’s wife, Sarah, 24, drowned in 2008 in Hamilton Township. This is the first of two separate appeals pending with the court on Widmer’s behalf.
Widmer’s lawyer has asked the Middletown-based court, which hears cases from an eight-county region, to throw out his 2011 conviction and order a retrial of a case that drew intense public scrutiny and national media attention. Now 31, Widmer is serving 15 years to life in prison. He was convicted in his third trial after juror misconduct and a deadlocked jury caused two mistrials.
Appeals court officials say they intend to file the decision at 9 a.m. Monday in Warren County Common Pleas Court, where Widmer was convicted. The judges who considered the case were: Robert P. Ringland, Robert A. Hendrickson, and H.J. Bressler, a retired judge appointed to hear the case.
Among the possible outcomes:
The court could throw out Widmer’s conviction and order a retrial. If the judges agree the bathtub was illegally seized, they could block the tub from being used as evidence against Widmer again.
The court could decide to grant a retrial for other reasons. Those include Widmer attorney Michele Berry’s contention that he was convicted based on flimsy evidence. She also argues that officials and Widmer’s trial lawyers made mistakes that violated his right to a fair trial.
If the court rules in Widmer’s favor, he would remain criminally charged and would again be presumed innocent. Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell would have to decide whether to take the case to trial a fourth time.
The appeals court could decide there were no errors significant enough to warrant a reversal of Widmer’s conviction. If the conviction is upheld, Berry can ask the Ohio Supreme Court to consider the case.
If this appeal fails, the Middletown appeals court is still considering a second appeal, which was argued in August. It centers on on additional information that surfaced after Widmer’s 2011 trial.Widmer’s lawyer asserts that authorities wrongfully withheld evidence suggesting that the lead investigator, Lt. Jeff Braley, had a pattern of dishonesty that jurors should have been allowed to consider. Prosecutors say Braley didn’t play that big of a role in the case.
Prosecutors have said medical testimony and other evidence, including injuries inside Sarah Widmer’s neck, prove Widmer forcibly drowned his wife. But Widmer’s lawyers have pointed to the lack of any injury on their client and they have argued that life-saving efforts created the injuries to Sarah Widmer. They also say there’s reason to believe she may have suffered from a medical condition that could have caused her to drown.
Prosecutors counter that Sarah Widmer was never diagnosed with any such condition.
The defense is fighting for genetic testing to look for a syndrome that can cause heart-rhythm changes. The prosecution opposes that testing, saying that even a positive test for such a condition doesn’t prove that the condition, rather than murder, caused her to drown. That battle is part of Widmer’s second appeal.