Widmer defense files motion for new trial, alleging juror bias

Ryan Widmer
Ryan Widmer
Ryan and Sarah Widmer
Ryan and Sarah Widmer
Ryan Widmer (second from right) and his defense team wait to hear the verdict of the third trial
Ryan Widmer (second from right) and his defense team wait to hear the verdict of the third trial

LEBANON, OH (FOX19) - Ryan Widmer's defense team has filed a motion for a retrial, alleging one of the jurors made a bias statement and should have been removed from the jury.

Widmer, 30, was found guilty of murder on Feb. 16 in the drowning death of his wife, Sarah.

A motion filed by defense attorneys Jay Clark and Lindsey Gutierrez alleges they received phone calls from family members of one of the jurors, "D.E." during the second day of the trial. The family members said D.E. had visited her best friend, "S.L." a few days before the trial began, telling her, "Don't worry about the Widmer case, we have all talked about it and we know he is guilty. He (Ryan Widmer) is going to rot in hell."

In a phone interview with FOX19, D.E. said that statement is "an out and out lie." She claims her friend's sister called the Widmer defense team and made the allegations.

"It was her sister that took it upon herself to call the county and talk to the defense attorney about this, why I don't know, I just know that drugs and alcohol were involved supposedly when they had this conversation," said D.E.

The defense team brought this statement to the court's attention, and D.E. was brought into the judge's chambers. She said her only recent conversation with S.L. had been about S.L.'s  health, and that S.L. had asked about the trial, but D.E. said she wasn't allowed to say anything.

D.E. was dismissed from chambers and an instruction was given to the rest of the jurors regarding anyone approaching them about the case or speaking to anyone about the case.

The court determined D.E. would remain on the jury because she was honest about her conversations and had not made the statement.

The same week, defense attorneys sent a private investigator to talk to S.L., who told them she and D.E. were like sisters, and that D.E. was the executor of her estate. S.L. denied that D.E. had made the statement, but she had told her the jurors were able to go out for lunch and they would probably be sequestered during deliberations, which had not been discussed with jurors in open court.

The motion alleges that D.E. lied about the nature of the relationship with her best friend, so, "it is difficult to believe she was honest and sincere about the statement."

"She has a terminal illness," said D.E. "We discussed that, that is what we talked about. And there wasn't really anything else I needed to tell them in chambers, what more could I say."

Defense attorneys said in the motion that Widmer should get a new trial because D.E. was not removed from the jury after the allegations she made that statement.

"Based upon Juror D.E.'s statements to her best friend S.L. during the first week of the trial, it is impossible to believe D.E. remained impartial during the course of the trial," the motion reads. "It is clear from Juror D.E.'s statement her mind was made up on Ryan's guilt before hearing the evidence....Juror D.E.'s failure to remain impartial violates Ryan's most basic constitutional right."

D.E. says the accusations have ruined her life.

"I don't know what the laws are in Ohio for libel, I've never had a problem like this," she said. "But I certainly intend to find out, I will not stop until I find out what I can do about this."

Defense attorneys also said in the motion that Widmer was prejudiced by burden shifting on behalf of jury. The motion quotes statements jurors made to the media after the verdict saying the evidence did not prove innocence.

"An expectation of Ryan to prove his innocent is the equivalent of jurors considering the race or ethnicity of a defendant when reaching a verdict," the motion reads. "Both violate a defendant's constitutional right to a fair trial because the jurors are considering matters outside the evidence."

The third point presented in the motion was that Widmer's verdict was not sustained by sufficient evidence.

"There is no way a rational fact finder could easily conclude that all elements of murder were proven beyond a reasonable doubt," the motion states.

FOX19 legal analyst Mike Allen said these allegations aren't enough to merit a new trial.

"It's not gonna happen, the new trial will probably be denied," said Allen. "I think ultimately, the 12th District Court of Appeals, will rule it is not enough to reverse that conviction."

Prosecutors have until March 18 to respond.

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell issues the following statement in the State v. Widmer case:

"Our office will review the Motion for a New Trial filed today with the Court. The Court has set March 18th as the deadline for the submission of the State's response. Our office will prepare a written response to the Motion for a New Trial and file it with the Court no later than the deadline established by the Court."

Sarah Widmer drowned in the bathtub of the couple's Hamilton Township home in August of 2008. A murder conviction in Ryan Widmer's first trial was overturned due to juror misconduct; a second trial ended in a hung jury.

Widmer is currently serving a 15 years to life sentence for the conviction in the third trial.

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