Convicted bathtub killer Ryan Widmer should find out today whether he will be granted a fourth trial in Warren County.
The 12th District Court of Appeals is expected to release its opinion in Widmer’s second appeal at 9 a.m. The appeals court denied Widmer’s first appeal, which focused heavily on what the defense claimed was an illegal seizure of the infamous bathtub.
The second appeal in the case centers on former lead detective Jeff Braley, but Widmer’s attorney Michele Berry-Godsey touched on Braley’s dishonesty in the first appeal as well. The judges said Judge Neal Bronson was not wrong to disallow evidence that Braley lied on a 14-year-old job application.
“Whether Braley authored the 14-year-old fabricated application was an issue collateral to Widmer’s murder trial,” Judge Robert Hendrickson wrote. “Exploration of this issue was likely to ‘bog down’ the criminal trial and lead to confusion of the jury and misleading of the jury.”
Berry-Godsey has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to reverse the 12th District decision. The high court has not decided whether to accept the case.
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.
Prosecutors say Braley was a bit-player in the Widmer case.
The three-judge panel during oral arguments last August seemed focused on rules of evidence. Berry-Godsey argued Widmer’s constitutional rights were trampled when he wasn’t allowed to unveil Braley’s apparent shortcomings.
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.
Widmer’s father, Gary Widmer, has said he isn’t counting on getting a fourth trial at the state level, but is pinning his hope on the federal courts. Legal expert Ian Friedman, a former president of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said Widmer might be right.
“In the event that the state court decision affirms the conviction, Mr. Widmer will spend the coming years seeking review of his case in the federal courts. The process is called habeas corpus review. Mr. Widmer as the petitioner will be asking the federal court to overturn his conviction on the basis that their was some constitutional violation during the state proceedings,” Friedman said. “Some hold out more hope in the federal system because they believe that these judges, who are appointed for life, need not worry about public opinion and can just focus on the substantive issues. This battle can go on for decades.”
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