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Court: Widmer will not get 4th trial

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LEBANON, Ohio - Ryan Widmer will not get a fourth trial for the murder of his wife, Sarah, after a court denied his appeal Monday morning.

The Warren County Clerk of Courts released the decision at about 8:30 a.m. Monday.

Widmer, who was found guilty of murdering his wife in February 2011, had his attorney, Michele Berry, argue his case before the 12th District Court of Appeals in August in an effort to force a fourth trial. Widmer's wife Sarah was found dead in the bathtub of their Hamilton Township home in August 2008.

Berry argued that her client's rights of due process were violated before and during his third trial that resulted in his conviction.

Her argument centered on former lead investigator and Hamilton Township Lt. Jeff Braley, whose credibility was called into question for lying on his employment application about his service history.

Berry argued that Widmer's trial court made a mistake when it did not allow the defense to subpoena Braley's education and employment background and further did not allow the defense to confront Braley about that background.  The appeal asserts that this denied Widmer his Sixth Amendment right to meaningfully confront witnesses who testify against him.

"[Widmer's] constitutional rights allow him to present a defense to the jury that Braley's pattern for lying and his incompetence to hold the position of lead detective in a murder case taints the entire investigation," Berry said.

In addition, Berry argued because Braley's history wasn't admitted into trial, Widmer's defense couldn't question the evidence properly before the jury. Berry also argued that the bathtub where Sarah was found dead was unlawfully seized because it wasn't listed on the search warrant of the home.

The Court of Appeals disagreed:

"In this case, under the totality of the circumstances, we are unable to say that the trial court abused its discretion in precluding the defense team from questioning Braley about the June 25, 1996(employment)application. The testimony sought to be elicited concerned a disputed application, the trial court held a two-day evidentiary hearing where more than ten witnesses testified about their knowledge of the application or their knowledge of Braley's employment background."

The authenticity of the application was still in question at the time and the appeals court agreed with the trial court that the matter was "collateral" to Widmer's murder trial and was likely to "bog down" the criminal trial and lead to confusion of the jury.

Thus, the appeals court found that Widmer's assertion that his Sixth Amendment protections were violated were without merit.

"Contrary to Widmer's claim, a trial court's decision to exclude evidence with minimal probative value under Evid.R. 608(B), such as the case here, does not violate a defendant's Sixth Amendment rights."

The appeals court also ruled that Widmer's defense still could have questioned Braley.

"Widmer had the opportunity to challenge the integrity of the police officers' investigation of Sarah's death by cross-examining Braley and other testifying officers about the processing and collecting of evidence from the crime scene as well as their role, if any, in the decision to charge Widmer with the crime."

The ruling also stated that Widmer had the opportunity to question all three individuals who were present at the time of Sarah's autopsy, which included Braley.

"The trial court's decision precluding the defense from questioning Braley about his employment background did not prevent the defense from questioning witnesses about Braley's role or "participation in the autopsy."

As to the seizure of Widmer's bathtub the appeals court ruled:

"In the present case, the warrant specifically authorized officers to search for latent fingerprints and retrieve any evidence of criminal activity. Although the warrant did not specifically list the bathtub, this does not invalidate its seizure."

Widmer's father, Gary, says he talks to Ryan every day.

"He's doing as well as can be expected," Gary said after the August hearing. "I don't know how else to put that. He's obviously not happy with where he is at because he is not supposed to be but he's doing OK."

Widmer is currently serving 15 years to life in prison.

The panel of judges reviewed the arguments for several weeks and issued their decision Monday.

Stay with 9 News and WCPO.com for updates as they become available.

Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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