LEBANON, Ohio -- A Warren County jury found Ryan Widmer guilty of murdering his wife, Sarah, on Tuesday bringing to an end a case that’s spanned two-and-a-half years and three trials and captured the national spotlight.
The jury of six men and six women returned the verdict after nearly 12 hours of deliberation.
Widmer began to cry immediately and dropped to the table, burying his head in his hands.
"Judge I did not do this. I don't know why this has to keep going on. I love Sarah. I would never hurt her. Never," Widmer said after the judge asked if he had anything to say to the court.
The murder conviction carries a penalty of 15 years to life. The sentencing phase of this case will begin soon.
"This has gone on for two-and-a-half years. I don't have the answer. This just keeps going on,” Widmer said. "Twelve hours after she's died, I'm charged with murder.
This was the third trial for Widmer after the first jury found him guilty, only to have that conviction thrown due to juror misconduct. The second trial ended with a hung jury.
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The jury began deliberations around 1:30 p.m. Monday. The prosecution introduced a new development in the trial Monday morning when it filed a request to Judge Neal Bronson to allow the jury to consider involuntary manslaughter as a lesser charge. The original charge against Widmer, and the focus of all three cases, was murder.
Widmer was charged with murder in August 2008 after his wife Sarah was found by an EMS squad drowned in the bathroom of the couple's Hamilton Township home. The Warren County coroner ruled her death a homicide.
Ryan called 911 saying his wife was unconscious in the bathtub. The prosecution, in its closing arguments, played a recording of the 911 call for the jury to hear again. Assistant Prosecutor Travis Vieux said the call did not make sense. Widmer told the dispatcher he tried to perform CPR, but that Sarah was still in the tub.
A new element in the prosecution's case this third trial was the testimony of Jennifer Crew. The Iowa woman learned of the Widmer case by seeing a story on Dateline NBC. She contacted Widmer through the Free Ryan Widmer website. They began communicating on a regular basis by texting, email, and phone. Crew testified that on October 26, 2009, Widmer called her sounding intoxicated and upset. She said he confessed to killing Sarah. Crew said she did not come forward to tell anyone about the alleged confession because she said she feared for her safety.
Vieux told the jury that regardless of Crew's criminal history, her story is believable. Vieux said, "You don't have to like Jennifer Crew. You don't have to invite her for dinner. You don't have to think that she's a wonderful person to believe her and to understand her and to understand that the defendant's relationship with her was beyond what he had with other people."
To counter that testimony, the defense brought in a supporter of Ryan's, named Melissa Waller. Waller lives near Seattle, Washington and also contacted Ryan through the website after seeing the national television program. They spoke frequently and she even traveled to the area to take part in a fund raising event to help with Widmer's legal costs. She said they spoke several times a week. Defense Attorney Jay Clark presented phone record evidence that indicated Ryan spoke with Waller and Crew that same night in October 2009. Waller spoke to Ryan just minutes before the alleged confession call in which Crew said Ryan sounded drunk. Waller testified that in all of her conversations with him, he never sounded intoxicated or upset.
The prosecution presented medical experts who testified that Sarah did not have any medical problems and that she was a healthy, active person. Medical reports also pointed to Sarah's bruises on her neck and back of her head as injuries that came from blunt force trauma and not life-saving measures. Vieux, in closing arguments, said, "It is unreasonable to conclude that random headaches, stomachaches and the unreliable anecdotes of Ryan's friends and supporters that she suffered from not just a serious illness, but a deadly illness such as narcolepsy, epilepsy or a serious cardiac event."
Defense Attorney Jay Clark used witnesses to dispute all of the testimony presented by the prosecution. Medical experts brought in by the defense testified that Sarah's injuries were consistent with life-saving measures and not blunt force. Friends and co-workers of Ryan said that Sarah had a history of falling asleep at strange times and suffered from headaches. That testimony supported the defense claims that Sarah actually drowned after either falling