In a strongly worded opinion, the 12th District Court of Appeals denied convicted bathtub killer Ryan Widmer’s attempt to get a fourth trial in Warren County and even chided his attorney over some of her assertions.
The 12th District Court of Appeals released its opinion in Widmer’s second appeal Monday morning. The appeals court renewed its opinion that Judge Neal Bronson ruled correctly that information about lead detective Jeff Braley’s penchant for dishonesty wasn’t crucial to the case. The same court denied Widmer’s first appeal, which focused heavily on what the defense claimed was an illegal seizure of the infamous bathtub.
Widmer’s attorney, Michele Berry-Godsey, touched on Braley’s dishonesty in the first appeal, but the court of appeals determined Judge Neal Bronson was not wrong to disallow evidence that Braley lied on a 14-year-old job application. The judges reiterated that stance, saying the knowledge of Braley’s apparent dishonesty would not have changed the verdict.
“Braley was not on trial for fraud or misconduct,” the opinion reads. “Widmer was on trial for murder and examining this part of Braley’s past would only lead to surprise, jury confusion and a waste of time, which are the very reasons for the rule against impeachment on collateral matters.”
Braley resigned last year after an investigation revealed he lied on his job application about his educational and employment experience. Berry-Godsey said Braley lied about his service in the “ultra-elite” Special Forces unit of the U.S. Air Force — which helped him get promoted —and jurors should have been told that.
Berry-Godsey claimed Widmer deserved a new trial based on “new” evidence in the form of a report generated by attorney Douglas Miller, with Donnellon, Donnellon & Miller (DD&M) who was hired by Hamilton Twp. trustees to look into Braley’s situation and an affidavit by Dennis Waller, an expert on police practices.
Prosecutors have said Braley was a bit-player in the Widmer case and the court agreed, saying plenty of other witnesses’s testimony backed up Braley’s. The court also ruled Widmer had no right under the law to have his wife’s DNA tested for some previously undiagnosed medical issue.
The 32-year-old is serving 15 years to life for drowning his wife, Sarah, in the bathtub in August 2008. In Widmer’s first trial, he was found guilty of murder, but that verdict was thrown out after jurors admitted to conducting at-home experiments and discussed their results during deliberations. They admitted to bathing and timing how long it took to dry. Only Sarah’s hair was damp when first responders arrived, and no wet towels or rags could be found.
The second trial ended with a hung jury after jurors said they could not make a decision after 2 1/2 days. The third verdict came after 13 days of testimony from 44 witnesses and a dozen hours of deliberations.
The court also noted when they asked Berry-Godsey during oral argument if there is any evidence Braley mishandled evidence, she implied the tub may have been tampered with. The judges said this “troubled” them because there was no evidence tampering.
“Widmer’s counsel seemed to embellish the record in order to excite the passions of the media and public on this issue,” Hendrickson wrote in a footnote. “We feel compelled to note that this almost crosses the line from permissible appellate advocacy to impermissible hyperbole that so distorts the evidence that it borders upon the absurd.”
Prosecutor David Fornshell said he was not surprised that the 55-page ruling sided with Bronson on actions he took in the case.
“These, from a legal standpoint, from our perspective, were not really close calls,” he said. “They threw a lot at the court and asked them to consider a number of different issues, but each of them individually, there really was no merit.”
Berry-Godsey said she will appeal the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court and said she disagreed with the judges’ comment about her.
“It appears that the court overlooked important parts of the court records, and as a result, failed to understand our argument about why the bathtub isn’t reliable evidence,” she said. “We strongly disagree with the Court’s assessment and will continue fighting for justice for Ryan.”
The high court has yet to decide if it will accept her first appeal.