Updated: 7:49 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011 | Posted: 8:58 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011

Widmer found guilty of murder


Widmer found guilty of murder photo
Ryan Widmer is led away in handcuffs by Warren County Sheriff's deputies after the jury came back with a guilty verdict Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011 in Warren County Common Pleas Court in Lebanon, Ohio.

By Denise G. Callahan

Staff Writer

LEBANON — Ryan Widmer is guilty of murder, a jury determined Tuesday after spending 12 hours deliberating over two days.

Widmer immediately started crying and buried his face into his hands, bent over the defense table, following the verdict.

“I didn’t do this. My life has been ruined. I loved Sarah,” Widmer told the judge before he was sentenced.

Widmer, 30, was accused of killing his wife Sarah Widmer in their Hamilton Twp. home on Aug. 11, 2008. He has been tried twice previously, but both ended in mistrials.

Judge Neal Bronson sentenced Widmer to 15 years to life in prison. He already served about five months after the first trial. He won’t be eligible for parole until 2026.

Addressing the judge, a sobbing Widmer said he never would have hurt his wife.

“This has gone on for 2 1/2 years now. I haven’t got an answer for what happened here. All I want is an answer. They have not given me that chance,” Widmer said.

Sobs could be heard from numerous people in the gallery before the jury was released by the judge, including two young women who were crying uncontrollably.

Defense attorneys Jay Clark and Lindsey Gutierrez were both crying when they left the courtroom and did not address questions. Gutierrez said later she was told by someone in the jury room after the trial when some jurors spoke with prosecutors, “it was all about the water.”

Gutierrez said they were going over to talk to their client after he is processed into the Warren County Jail. She said she expects an appeal.

“What’s unfortunate is we know Ryan didn’t do this,” she said. “It bothered me the whole time because the water is a red herring. If there was violent struggle there would be water.”

Widmer, who did not take the stand in all three trials, was escorted out of the courtroom in handcuffs by Warren County Sheriff’s deputies.

“This is not true. I’m innocent,” Widmer said.

When asked by reporters if he killed his wife, Widmer said, “Absolutely not.”

Widmer’s father Gary Widmer collapsed to his knees outside the courthouse. Widmer’s aunt Jackie Cromin called the verdict a “travesty.” She said her sister Jill Widmer, Widmer’s mother, has not been able to attend any of the trial because, “she is very sick this has ruined her.”

She called the justice system in Warren County corrupt and said the almost three year process has taken a heavy toll on the entire family.

“It’s just destroyed our family, it’s destroyed us,” she said. “My sister will never be the same. We’ve lost Ryan based on lies and people who want to get ahead in the world. They don’t care who they destroy on the way down.”

Ginger Boyd, a supporter of Widmer, said she didn’t understand the jury’s decision.

“I’m sorry for Sarah Widmer’s family, but this verdict is wrong,” Boyd said.

Assistant prosecutor John Arnold hugged Sarah Widmer’s mother Ruth Ann Steward before she left the courtroom.

A release from interim Prosecutor Bruce McGary said the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office was pleased justice has been done for Sarah Widmer and her family.

“Recognition should also go to the dedicated men and women who have been involved in the case from start to finish,” McGary said in the release.

A juror, who was not identified, spoke to a WLWT Ch. 5 reporter and said the jury went over all of the witnesses’ testimony before taking a vote.

He said they wanted to find Widmer not guilty, but the evidence against him was too much, WLWT Ch. 5 reported.

In Widmer’s first trial, he was found guilty of murder but that verdict was thrown out after jury misconduct was found after jurors admitted to conducting at-home experiments and talking about it during deliberations. They admitted to bathing and timing how long it took to dry off.

The second trial ended with a hung jury after jurors said they could not make a decision after 2 1/2 days.

Tuesday’s verdict came after 13 days of testimony from 44 witnesses. Medical experts, first responders, police, friends and family testified about what they thought happen to Sarah Widmer.

Jurors could have considered a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, something that had not been available during previous trials.

The prosecution said Widmer forced Sarah Widmer to drown in their bathroom. Medical responders said the drowning scene was dry and the coroner concluded bruising and injuries on her body were the result of a homicide.

The defense maintained no one may ever know how Sarah Widmer drowned. Medical experts for the defense testified she could have died from a medical problem.

However, the jury’s decision also could have come down to an Iowa women who came forward and testified after watching the case on a 2009 “Dateline NBC” episode she became involved with Widmer through e-mails, texts and phone messages.

Jennifer Crew, 36, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa surfaced in the case after the second jury last spring was deadlocked. She told prosecutors an inebriated and upset Widmer called her Oct. 26, 2009 and confessed to killing his wife.

“I did it Jen, I killed Sarah,” Crew testified about what Widmer had allegedly told her.

Crew said the Widmers, who had only been married for 114 days, got into an argument over Widmer’s womanizing, porn surfing, drinking and smoking, and Sarah told him she was leaving him. The fight moved to the bedroom and ultimately the master bath. She said Widmer told her he punched his wife in the chest and then blacked out. When he awakened, Sarah Widmer was on the floor and her hair was wet.

Crew said Widmer dried up the bathroom and called 911. First responders testified the oddly dry drowning scene was suspicious, but they couldn’t find any wet towels or rags, and they looked everywhere, even in the Widmer cars.

Defense attorneys told the jury during closing arguments Crew could have gleaned information about Widmer and his family and most importantly the case via the “Dateline” episode and the “Free Ryan Widmer” website.

The unidentified juror who spoke to a WLTW Ch. 5 reporter said the jury did not find Jennifer Crew’s testimony into account. He said they discredited her.

Melissa Waller, 29, a woman from Washington, also became involved with Widmer by communicating with him by phone and visiting a fundraiser.

Waller described Widmer as calm and not drunk in a phone call conversation with her minutes before he allegedly talked to Crew.

Crew has a criminal record, a prior prescription drug problem and has been diagnosed as bipolar. But, she knew a lot about Widmer and had no reason to lie, Arnold said.

The defense painted the picture that Sarah Widmer suffered a medical event that caused her to drown in the tub. She often complained of severe headaches, according to friends who testified. One defense expert testified she had indicators for a rare heart condition called Long QT Syndrome.

Arnold dismissed the defense’s claim that Sarah Widmer suffered from undiagnosed medical issues as unreasonable.

“If Sarah was struck down with this miserable malady it had to be just at the right moment,” he said. “Remember the fairy tale Goldilocks? Like the story in Goldilocks whatever this unknown medical event was, it had to be not too hard, because if it was she could have been killed instantly, not drowning ... Not too soft because Sarah would have recovered. But just right, just right to incapacitate her at that right moment.”

Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a jury expert and professor at the University of Dayton law school, said he was “stunned” when he heard the verdict. He said he expected maybe the involuntary manslaughter conviction or another hung jury.

Hoffmeister, who has been following the trial sometimes in court and remotely, said he is not certain there are enough grounds for a successful appeal. Appellate courts don’t often overturn jury verdicts. Even the fact several onlookers said today jurors were napping during testimony probably isn’t enough to force a fourth trial.


Widmer trial timeline


Warren County resident Ryan Widmer is accused of drowning his wife Sarah Widmer in the bathtub of their Hamilton Twp. home on Aug. 11, 2008. A third trial is ongoing, because the first verdict — guilty — was thrown out due to juror misconduct, and a second trial ended with a deadlocked jury. The jury of six women and six men has heard from 44 witnesses during 13 days of testimony. The jury will hear closing statements Monday and then deliberate.

Day 1 (Jan. 26): Jury tours home on Crested Owl Court in Hamilton Twp. where Widmer is accused of killing Sarah Widmer. During opening statements, the prosecution tells jurors a young, healthy woman like Sarah Widmer would not have drowned without being forced under water. The defense tells the jury they may never know how Sarah Widmer died, but it wasn’t at the hands of her husband. The jury hears the 911 call made by Widmer. EMT Jeff Teague said he found Sarah Widmer’s body dry.

Day 2 (Jan. 27): Hamilton Twp. police Sgt. Lisa Elliott testifies the bathroom where Sarah Widmer drowned was dry when she arrived. Warren County sheriff’s deputy Steve Bishop testifies he saw a small pool of water in the middle of the bathtub. In prior testimony, first responders have only said there were droplets.

Day 3 (Jan. 28): Coroner Dr. Russell Uptegrove, testifying for five hours, said following his autopsy, he determined Sarah Widmer’s death was a homicide. Uptegrove said bruising and injuries found on her body were not from CPR rescue efforts. Dr. James Moore, a physician and adjunct professor at Ohio State University, testifies Sarah Widmer’s medical records revealed nothing that could have led to her death, and nothing that would make him think she was a candidate for seizures.

Day 4 (Jan. 31): Dr. William Rogers said he has never seen bruises caused by medical intervention look like the livid marks that showed up on Sarah Widmer’s body. Rogers admits there is a chance Sarah Widmer may have suffered a first-ever seizure, but says it’s not likely. Hamilton Twp. EMT Derek Roat testifies he performed three of the five attempts to intubate a lifeless Sarah Widmer. Roat starts to say that usually family members try to insert themselves in life-saving efforts, but Judge Neal Bronson quickly stops his comment.

Day 5 (Feb. 1): Sarah Widmer’s mother Ruth Ann Steward testifies Ryan and Sarah Widmer could at times be “hateful” toward each other. She later admitted during defense questioning that her daughter’s relationship with Widmer didn’t appear to be distressed. Hamilton Twp. police Officer Quillan Short testifies they were unable to unearth any money or fidelity problems in the four-month old marriage. Hamilton Twp. paramedic Brian Dapper testifies heart monitor pads were placed on the front of her body. Others testified they were placed on her back because the floor was dry.

Day 6 (Feb. 2): Jennifer Crew testifies Widmer confessed to her during a frantic phone call on Oct. 26, 2009, that he killed his wife by punching her in the chest, causing her to fall down and hit her head. Crew, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, resident, said an inebriated Widmer told her he had gotten in an argument with his wife, Sarah, about his drinking, smoking and looking at pornography. He then allegedly told her he dried up the scene, hid the towels and dialed 911.

Day 7 (Feb. 3): The lead detective in the case, Hamilton Twp. Lt. Jeff Braley, testifies what he found during his investigation: a mostly dry bathroom and bedroom where Sarah Widmer was found. He says he found no wet towels. Braley says the county coroner’s declaration the death was a homicide was a major factor in his decision to charge Widmer. Sarah Widmer’s former boss Dr. John Becker, a dentist from Fort Thomas, Ky., testifies Sarah Widmer inquired about obtaining life insurance shortly after she married Widmer. Criminalist William Hillard testifies the small handprints that streaked down the back of the tub were made by a “small statured” person. Sarah Widmer was 5-foot-1.

Day 8 (Feb. 4): Dr. Jeffrey Lee, a forensic pathologist from Licking County, says the Warren County coroner made the right decision declaring Sarah Widmer’s death was a homicide. Lee testifies he believes Sarah Widmer received some kind of blunt force trauma to her neck. He tells jurors the injuries and bruises he examined in the autopsy reports were caused before she died.

Day 9 (Feb. 7): The defense begins its case by reading the testimony of Dr. Werner Spitz from the second trial (Spitz could not be present because of health issues). Spitz testifies that Sarah Widmer died from drowning, but it was not caused by Widmer. He argues bruises found on Sarah Widmer’s body were caused by paramedics attempting to revive her. Three witnesses testify that the Widmers were a perfect couple. A neighbor who was outside the Widmers’ home at the time of the drowning says she didn’t hear any arguing.

Day 10 (Feb. 8): Emergency room expert Dr. David Smile testifies to the possibility Sarah Widmer suffered a first-ever seizure or cardiac event that caused her to drown. Smile says livid bruising on her head, neck and arms are consistent with the prolonged efforts to revive her. “I was not surprised by the injuries I saw, but I was surprised by the lack of injuries,” he said. Under cross-examination, Smile says a mark on the right ride of Sarah Widmer’s neck was likely a finger mark and could have been caused by manual strangulation.

Day 11 (Feb. 9): The defense shows jurors a portion of the “Dateline NBC” episode about Widmer to show Crew could have learned information about the couple from there. Part of the tape includes Widmer saying he didn’t kill his wife after being found guilty in the first trial. Chris Kist, a college roommate and long-time friend of Widmer’s, testifies he was with Widmer the night Crew claims Widmer confessed to her. He says Widmer was not drinking. Several friends and co-workers testify that Widmer did not have issues with anger, alcohol or other vices. Some claim Sarah Widmer often fell asleep in unusual places.

Day 12 (Feb. 10): Dr. Michael Balko, a forensic pathologist from Fort Mitchell, Ky., says after studying county coroner Dr. Russell Uptegrove’s autopsy work, Uptegrove did not take tissue samples from the sections of Sarah Widmer’s brain that could have been studied microscopically. “I have issues with the thoroughness of the examination.”

Day 13 (Feb. 11): Dr. Chandler Phillips, an expert in human factor engineering, says Widmer did not forcibly drown Sarah Widmer. Based on the human environment, Phillips says he would have expected to see more injuries on both if a struggle ensued. Melissa Waller, a Washington state resident, had a phone friendship with Widmer after watching the “Dateline NBC” episode. She says Widmer never was drunk, angry or hostile. They always discussed stuff about Sarah Widmer. Waller allegedly talked to Widmer minutes before he allegedly talked to Crew on the phone, and says he was not drunk.

— Staff reports


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