LEBANON, Ohio - An explosion of emotion erupted in and outside the courtroom Tuesday when Ryan Widmer’s fate was determined by a jury of 12 who filed into the courtroom after 12 hours of delilberations never looking in Ryan’s direction.
The judge read the words: “Ryan K. Widmer is guilty of murder.”
An emotional outburst rang through the crowded courtroom as a guilty verdict was read to Widmer, who stood sobbing, leaning over the table, head down, face in his hands.
Even before the verdict was read, Widmer began to cry. The jury form was handed to the bailiff who delivered it to Judge Neal Bronson. The judge looked down at the piece of paper and reminded the galleries that the court would tolerate no outbursts.
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As Widmer and his attorneys, Jay Clark, Lindsey Gutierrez and Charles Rittgers, stood at the defense table, the judge read the words that the jury had determined Widmer had killed his 24-year-old wife Sarah Widmer in their Hamilton Township home on Aug. 11, 2008.
One by one, the jurors affirmed this was their verdict. Widmer sobbed audibly. The jurors showed no expression as they left the jury box.
After Assistant Prosecutor John Arnold said that Sarah’s mother, Ruth Ann Steward, who sat in the front row behind the prosecution table, did not want to make a statement, the judge gave Widmer the opportunity to speak to the court.
"Judge, I did not do this. I don't know why this has to keep going on. My life has been ruined,” he said sobbing, as he stood before the judge.
“I love Sarah. I would never hurt her. Never."
Clark and Gutierrez propped up Widmer as he leaned on the podium and spoke.
"Twelve hours after she's died, I'm charged with murder," he told the judge as he continued to insist on his innocence. "This is just not right. Not right."
Judge Bronson sentenced him to 15 years to life, and amid the many cries throughout the courtroom, reminded him that he has the right to appeal the case.
Widmer’s twin brother Aryan, who sat in the front row with other family members, including their father Gary Widmer, began to cry, hands cupping his face.
Widmer looked into the gallery as he was led away in handcuffs with a Warren County Sheriff's Department deputy on either side of him. A woman yelled out, "We love you, Ryan,” as she sobbed uncontrollably.
After his son left the courtoom, Gary Widmer walked over to the defense table, embraced Gutierrez and Clark and then stood with them as they all cried.
The dramatic scene marked the end of a case that has spanned 2 ½ years and gone to trial three times, with one trial ending in a hung jury and the other two in convictions although the first was thrown out due to jury misconduct.
The case gained national attention, including a Dateline episode “The Mystery in the Master Bedroom,” which aired Sept. 18, 2009. In the third and final trial, it also gained a new witness for the prosecution -- one that may have made the difference between guilty and not guilty.
In the third trial, prosecutors produced a new "mystery witness" who testified that Ryan had confessed to her.
Gentleman’s club manager Jennifer Crew told the jury she had watched the Dateline episode and then contacted Widmer through the FreeRyanWidmer.com website to show her support.
With phone records in evidence, the prosecution showed the jury that Widmer and Crew continued to communicate after the initial website conversation, via text messages and phone calls. The Iowa woman also testified that their relationship continued through e-mail and instant messaging as well.
Her testimony, some believe, changed outcome of the third trial to guilty when the second trial ended in a hung jury.
Ginger Boyd, 33, who followed the trial from day 1 said the expressions on the faces of jurors told her what verdict they had reached.
"I knew it was guilty when they walked in," Boyd said.
She said she thinks Crew’s testimony is what convicted Widmer in the end.
Another factor in the third trial was the choice of an additional verdict jurors could have reached.
During closing arguments, jurors were instructed that they could find Widmer guilty of involuntary manslaughter as an alternative of guilty of murder or not guilty.
At the beginning of the trial, murder was the only charge on the table. In the first trial Widmer was charged with aggravated murder, however, convicted of the lesser charge of murder. That verdict was subsequently overturned due to jury misconduct.
In his closing argument, Assistant Prosecutor Travis Vieux told jurors that they didn’t have to like Crew to believe her. He called Crew's testimony about Widmer's confession elievable.
"If you had to tell someone, why not tell someone you already shared personal information with.