Rachel Hutzel, a judge with the Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals and a former Warren County prosecutor, died of cancer Saturday morning. She was 56.
“She was a fighter, whether it was in the courtroom or whether it was in a fight for her life. She fought (cancer) until the bitter end,” said Warren County Commissioner Pat South, a close friend of Hutzel’s.
Hutzel, a lifelong Warren County resident, was elected prosecutor in 2002 and held that job until January 2011 when she became judge with the appeals court based in Middletown. She was the first female Warren County prosecutor, and the first woman on the 12th District appeals bench.
As prosecutor, her profile rose significantly as a result of the highly publicized Ryan Widmer murder trial. Widmer’s wife, Sarah, died in a bathtub drowning in 2008.
In 2009, Widmer’s first jury convicted him of murder, but Judge Neal Bronson threw out the verdict because of juror misconduct. Widmer’s second prosecution ended in a mistrial in 2010. He was found guilty in a third trial in 2011. That verdict is being appealed.
“There were so many people on both sides of the fence,” South said. “It was a no-win (situation) for any seated prosecutor or assistant prosecutor who tried the case.”
While Hutzel did not personally try the case, “that’s where the buck stops,” South said. “She had many sleepless nights over that case.”
Mike Allen said he got to know Hutzel well when he was Hamilton County prosecutor from 1999 to 2005. He followed the Widmer trial as an analyst, and said Hutzel took a lot of heat for prosecuting the case.
“She was very courageous, and she did what she thought was right,” Allen said. “That’s the kind of prosecutor she was. I sought her advice many times over the years.
“She was a wonderful woman and an aggressive prosecutor, but she showed compassion as well, which is somewhat unusual in a prosecutor.”
Nowhere was her compassion more evident than in her work on behalf of children, colleagues said.
“Her concern about kids was a driving force with her,” said Warren County Commissioner Tom Ariss, who was the county’s sheriff from 1992 to 2009.
Said South: “She had a strong passion for protection of those who were least able to protect themselves, and that was children.”
In an interview shortly after joining the appeals court last year, Hutzel said her biggest accomplishment as prosecutor was the February 2008 opening of the county’s Child Advocacy Center, which brings together teams of people to investigate and prosecute child abuse cases.
“I will always remember her as a strong advocate in the fight against child abuse,” Warren County Sheriff Larry Sims said.
South said Hutzel “thoroughly enjoyed” working on the 12th District Court of Appeals, which covers Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Fayette, Madison, Preble and Warren counties. She had served about half a year when diagnosed with mucosal melanoma. The cancer developed in her sinus cavity, South said.
“They thought they had (discovered) it early,” South said. “They were able to get the tumor. She started aggressive radiation and chemotherapy.” But by late last year, the cancer had spread.
Still, “she missed very few days on the bench,” South said, adding that Hutzel was at work last Monday. She entered Christ Hospital on Wednesday for treatment, and died there.
Allen said he had lunch with Hutzel about a month ago, and she was very upbeat.
“It was amazing under the circumstances,” he said. “She didn’t want to talk about her condition. She just wanted to know how I was doing and how my family was.”
Hutzel had been a practicing attorney since 1991, and began work with the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office in 1993.
She and her husband, Jeff Blazey, had one son, Matt Blazey. Services had not been set Saturday evening, South said.