Friday, January 29, 2010

The Troubling Case of Sarah Widmer

by Laura James

In August 2008, 24-year-old Sarah Widmer, of southwest Ohio, died under mysterious circumstances: she drowned in her own bathtub.

The only other person in the home at the time was her husband of four months, Ryan Widmer.

The coroner ruled it a homicide. Mr. Widmer was charged and convicted of murdering his wife. The trial was taped by Dateline. And yet he has many supporters, among them his family and the Ohio Innocence Project -- which took on the case even though it does not meet their criteria (because there is no exculpatory DNA evidence). With the widespread publicity, an unusual case quickly became a very unusual case.

The conviction was thrown out by a judge concerned with the conduct of jurors who went outside the evidence to create their own theory of the case. (Or at least that was the stated reason. If the judge didn't have his own doubts about the verdict, I doubt he would have issued this ruling.) Now Ryan Widmer is about to be retried.

In the meantime, websites tell the tragic stories of this couple. Remember Sarah Widmer is a heartbreaking tribute to the attractive woman who lost her life in such an inexplicable way. Local station WCPO has put together its voluminous coverage. Mr. Widmer's supporters have created a comprehensive website and organized mass prayers.

Did Ryan Widmer kill his wife? How can the drowning death of a healthy young woman be otherwise explained? But there is no motive to be gleaned from the evidence. Was he wrongfully convicted? Was the coroner's conclusion warranted by the evidence? Did our criminal justice system, as extraordinarily deferential as it is to prosecutors, make a grievous error? Or is a guilty man going to go free?

These are deeply troubling questions. Had I been on the jury, I don't know that I could have voted to convict him, based on what I have read. I can't help but think that jurors in the United States today have completely lost touch with the concept of reasonable doubt.

One thing is for certain, to my mind anyway: widespread publicity in any case is a serious threat to a search for the truth. Is this not apparent to us by now? Be it a case in which the evidence of guilt is overwhelming, yet the defendant walks (O.J. Simpson, Robert Durst), or a case in which the evidence is ridiculously thin but the defendant is convicted anyway (Father Gerald Robinson, and, perhaps, Ryan Widmer), journalists and cameras are more often a problem than anything else.

If I ever had the misfortune to represent an innocent person accused of a crime, and if that case were to be heavily publicized beforehand or broadcast live, I would not stand for it. I'd go on a hunger strike until they removed the camera. If, on the other hand, my client was guilty, I'd welcome the publicity. The cameras are monkey wrenches. They mess with the works.

In the Widmer case, we can only hope that the retrial results in the truth coming out.


TLTL said...

OK so can you post any facts of the case??

Jan said...

Interesting that you feel our justice system is "extraordinarily deferential" to prosecutors. It certainly doesn't look that way to me. Granted I am not an insider, and am merely a silent observer in the courtroom as are the families of all victims of violent crime. I have been in many courtrooms in the 2 1/2 years since my boys were murdered, in my own case and as moral support for other parents. Well, inside the courtroom when they are not excluded and forced to sit in the hall outside because grief for the victim is prejudicial to the defendant.

Redebel Villotica said...


I love reading your post.

Happy blogging!

FleaStiff said...

I don't know anything about this particular case but I'd be troubled by a coroner and would hope they had a Medical Examiner and qualified pathologist.

Publicity? Sometimes its the only hope a defendant has.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jan

Fred said...

Ryan Widmer grabbed Sarah by the head and neck and held her head under water until she drown. All the evidence in this case clearly shows that.

The people behind the abominations that are and are souless. Associating a woman who was murdered with her murderer in a positive light is sick.

Gloriason said...

Fred, that is not what all the evidence clearly shows. Plus, please tell us, what was the motive? No motive Fred. Tons of reasonable doubt. Personally I don't think we will ever know what happened that night.

DReed said...

On 2-15-2011 following the 3rd trial, Ryan was found guilty. He is awaiting transport to the prison to start his mandatory 15 to life sentence.

I didn't come here to start a debate. I just have my own opinion and I honestly don't see how anyone could honestly say he did or didn't do this. Only 3 people know for sure, God, Sarah and Ryan.

I don't know if I could have been on that jury with all the stories available to me on the web. Anyone getting a notice in the mail in Warren County Ohio already knew it was possibly for that trial. How do you know for sure it isn't just 12 fame seeking individuals wanting to be part of this ongoing drama? You can question a potential juror and they can tell you what you want to here just to be part of a trial. This story was all over the news, internet etc, IMO he didn't stand a chance. I'm not pro Ryan, I'm for fair Justice and I just don't feel that this was fair Justice. Something just don't settle right with me about this and yes it saddens me. I feel for all the families especially the parents of Ryan and Sarah.

Anonymous said...

There is no evidence that a murder occurred in this case.....just pure speculation by the coroner who guessed that it must be a homocide because he had no real evidence of what happened.

The truthful conclusion would have been drowning by unknown causes, leaving it open for further investigation. The coroner in this case is an over zealous liar and the prosecutor's puppet.

It is possible that Widmer may have done it. It is just as possible that he did not. But when the government decides to make up stuff and call it evidence, you'd better have proof you're innocent or these juries today will convict you based on their own guesses and speculations. One of the big problems in our system is juries full of low IQ nitwits who have no idea what resonable doubt means. They're just too stupid. If I ever fell victim to circumstances like this, I'd go for a bench decision. At least I might have some chance that the judge is intelligent and honest. Juries.....forget it.....bunch of morons.