LEBANON, Ohio - The hearing for a new trial in the Ryan Widmer case ended with a witness not “remembering” what she allegedly told the defense about jury misconduct.
Defense attorneys for Ryan Widmer, 30, called a witness to the stand late Wednesday afternoon who they said called their office during the trial’s proceedings with some startling information. Wednesday, she was less sure of that conversation.
As defense attorney Jay Clark stood before the judge and laid out problems with the jury from the third murder trial asking for a new trial for his defendant, the jam-packed courtroom quieted down.
Once Judge Neal Bronson took his seat at the bench, Clark started by approaching the podium to explain their motion for a new trial to the judge, including their exhibits.
Clark told the judge that his office was called during the trial about juror Dreama Epperson. The person on the other end of the phone line made claims that Epperson spoke to her sister about Widmer's guilt prior to the verdict.
When juror misconduct is brought to the attention of the court, the court should address the information. Address the jury foreman or talk to the jurors themselves, said Clark in his argument. However, no inquiry was made and he continued with the other jurors or the juror herself at that time.
Upon notification of this issue, Clark said the judge gave further jury instructions before and after breaks about what they can and cannot do, including talking to anyone about the case and use Facebook and other social networking sites. The judge pointed out to Clark that the defense never requested such action be taken during the last trial.
A woman by the name of Sherry Lewis, who Clark described as close as a sister to Epperson, was interviewed by their investigator after the said allegation was made about a conversation had between that juror and Lewis.
Lewis’s sister Margaret Dean came forward, allegedly called Clark’s office during the trial and said that Lewis told her that her friend and juror Epperson said, “He’s going to burn in Hell.”
According to Clark, Dean said Epperson said during the trial to her sister not to worry about Widmer because the jury all thought he was guilty.
After Dean called the defense attorneys, Lewis spoke to the defense’s investigator regarding her relationship to Epperson and if the juror said anything.
Defense called Margaret Dean of Franklin, Ohio to the stand.
The dark-haired, older woman dressed in a pink button-down shirt and red pants took the stand and said that she spent the night in January with her sister, who has stage 4 cancer.
“We watched some TV and smoked some pot,” said Dean. The courtroom reacted with muffled laughter.
She said that she and her sister discussed the Widmer case, after seeing something on the news that night. And that is when her sister told her that her best friend Dreama Epperson was on the jury.
From the stand, she testified that she called the defense attorney’s office, however, she said that now she could not recall what was said between she and her sister, nor what she said when she called the defense attorney’s office.
Clark pressed her for what she allegedly said, but never swore to, that her sister said to her that night.
She shook her head, flustered, “Look, we were smoking pot… so I can’t with 100 percent certainty that she said that.”
Mark Krumbein, a Cincinnati criminal defense attorney who was present for Wednesday’s hearing said if a witness cannot swear to a statement, they should step down.
"When a witness says I can't say with 100-percent credibility, it's all over. That was their strongest card and it probably ruined it for the defense. They already had a slim chance," Krumbein said.
She never signed said affidavit and that is why she was called to the stand. Clark questioned her before open court and under oath to recount what she had told the defense team. She said she may have said that her sister said those things, but she didn’t remember.
"It appeared that she backed off to save face for her sister," Krumbein said.
Jay Clark made one more plea to the judge for a new trial. He told him that Dean called him and told him what Lewis said but would not sign an affidavit.
“She didn’t spend hours on the phone with me if nothing was said,” Clark reiterated to the judge. “Ryan has not gotten a fair trial. The jury was not fair and impartial.”
The judge ended the hearing by saying that he would take all information under advisement for his decision.
Widmer was convicted last month of murdering his wife of four months, Sarah Widmer, 24, in their Hamilton Township home in August 2008. The guilty verdict came in his third trial.
The first guilty verdict was thrown out because of jury misconduct. The second jury was hung.
Widmer is currently serving a 15 years to life sentence.
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