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LEBANON, Ohio -- A Warren County jury found Ryan Widmerguilty of murdering his wife, Sarah, on Tuesday bringing to an enda case that’s spanned two-and-a-half years and three trialsand captured the national spotlight.
The jury of six men and six women returned the verdict afternearly 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 keepgoing on. I love Sarah. I would never hurt her. Never," Widmer saidafter the judge asked if he had anything to say to the court.
The murder conviction carries a penalty of 15 years to life. Thesentencing phase of this case will begin soon.
"This has gone on for two-and-a-half years. I don't have theanswer. This just keeps going on,” Widmer said. "Twelve hoursafter she's died, I'm charged with murder.
This was the third trial for Widmer after the first jury foundhim guilty, only to have that conviction thrown due to jurormisconduct. The second trial ended with a hung jury.
The jury began deliberations around 1:30 p.m. Monday. Theprosecution introduced a new development in the trial Mondaymorning when it filed a request to Judge Neal Bronson to allow thejury to consider involuntary manslaughter as a lesser charge. Theoriginal charge against Widmer, and the focus of all three cases,was murder.
Widmer was charged with murder in August 2008 after his wifeSarah was found by an EMS squad drowned in the bathroom of the couple's Hamilton Township home. The Warren County coronerruled her death a homicide.
Ryan called 911 saying his wife was unconscious in the bathtub.The prosecution, in its closing arguments, played a recording ofthe 911 call for the jury to hear again. Assistant ProsecutorTravis Vieux said the call did not make sense. Widmer told thedispatcher he tried to perform CPR, but that Sarah was still in thetub.
A new element in the prosecution's case this third trial was thetestimony of Jennifer Crew. The Iowa woman learned of the Widmercase by seeing a story on Dateline NBC. She contacted Widmerthrough the Free Ryan Widmer website. They began communicating on aregular basis by texting, email, and phone. Crew testified that onOctober 26, 2009, Widmer called her sounding intoxicated and upset.She said he confessed to killing Sarah. Crew said she did not comeforward to tell anyone about the alleged confession because shesaid 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 likeJennifer Crew. You don't have to invite her for dinner. You don'thave to think that she's a wonderful person to believe her and tounderstand her and to understand that the defendant's relationshipwith her was beyond what he had with other people."
To counter that testimony, the defense brought in a supporter ofRyan's, named Melissa Waller. Waller lives near Seattle, Washingtonand also contacted Ryan through the website after seeing thenational television program. They spoke frequently and she eventraveled to the area to take part in a fund raising event to helpwith Widmer's legal costs. She said they spoke several times aweek. Defense Attorney Jay Clark presented phone record evidencethat indicated Ryan spoke with Waller and Crew that same night inOctober 2009. Waller spoke to Ryan just minutes before the allegedconfession call in which Crew said Ryan sounded drunk. Wallertestified that in all of her conversations with him, he neversounded intoxicated or upset.
The prosecution presented medical experts who testified thatSarah did not have any medical problems and that she was a healthy,active person. Medical reports also pointed to Sarah's bruises onher neck and back of her head as injuries that came from bluntforce trauma and not life-saving measures. Vieux, in closingarguments, said, "It is unreasonable to conclude that randomheadaches, stomachaches and the unreliable anecdotes of Ryan'sfriends and supporters that she suffered from not just a seriousillness, but a deadly illness such as narcolepsy, epilepsy or aserious cardiac event."
Defense Attorney Jay Clark used witnesses to dispute all of thetestimony presented by the prosecution. Medical experts brought inby the defense testified that Sarah's injuries were consistent withlife-saving measures and not blunt force. Friends and co-workers ofRyan said that Sarah had a history of falling asleep at strangetimes and suffered from headaches. That testimony supported thedefense claims that Sarah actually drowned after either fallingasleep or having some kind of undetected medical condition such asa seizure or cardiac event.
During closing arguments, Clark said the only verdict they couldreturn is not guilty. "Prosecutors want you to accept thereasonable, reject the unreasonable and use your common sense."Clark said. "If you do that, based on the oath you took to delivera true and just verdict, the only verdict you will be allowed tosign, the only verdict you will be able to return is a verdict ofnot guilty."
Clark said the investigation was erroneous from the start. Clarkadded, "It's a case where an assumption, a mistaken belief, amisunderstanding by one of the initial officers on the scene, kindof got us on the road of where we are today. They jumped to aconclusion and now they have to make the evidence fit."
During the three trials, the Widmer family exhausted savingsaccounts and retirement accounts to pay for legal fees. The familyalso paid for bond to allow Ryan to be out of jail during histrials.
Ryan and Sarah were married for just four months when shedied.