LEBANON, Ohio - An explosion of emotion erupted in and outside the courtroomTuesday when Ryan Widmer’s fate was determined by a jury of12 who filed into the courtroom after 12 hours of delilberationsnever looking in Ryan’s direction.
The judge read the words: “Ryan K. Widmer is guilty ofmurder.”
An emotional outburst rang through the crowded courtroom as aguilty verdict was read to Widmer, who stood sobbing, leaning overthe table, head down, face in his hands.
Even before the verdict was read, Widmer began to cry. The juryform was handed to the bailiff who delivered it to Judge NealBronson. The judge looked down at the piece of paper and remindedthe galleries that the court would tolerate no outbursts.
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As Widmer and his attorneys, Jay Clark, Lindsey Gutierrez andCharles Rittgers, stood at the defense table, the judge read thewords that the jury had determined Widmer had killed his24-year-old wife Sarah Widmer in their Hamilton Township home onAug. 11, 2008.
One by one, the jurors affirmed this was their verdict. Widmersobbed audibly. The jurors showed no expression as they left thejury box.
After Assistant Prosecutor John Arnold said that Sarah’smother, Ruth Ann Steward, who sat in the front row behind theprosecution table, did not want to make a statement, the judge gaveWidmer the opportunity to speak to the court.
"Judge, I did not do this. I don't know why this has to keepgoing on. My life has been ruined,” he said sobbing, as hestood before the judge.
“I love Sarah. I would never hurt her. Never."
Clark and Gutierrez propped up Widmer as he leaned on the podiumand spoke.
"Twelve hours after she's died, I'm charged with murder," hetold the judge as he continued to insist on his innocence. "This isjust not right. Not right."
Judge Bronson sentenced him to 15 years to life, and amid themany cries throughout the courtroom, reminded him that he has theright to appeal the case.
Widmer’s twin brother Aryan, who sat in the front row withother family members, including their father Gary Widmer, began tocry, hands cupping his face.
Widmer looked into the gallery as he was led away in handcuffswith a Warren County Sheriff's Department deputy on either side ofhim. A woman yelled out, "We love you, Ryan,” as she sobbeduncontrollably.
After his son left the courtoom, Gary Widmer walked over to thedefense table, embraced Gutierrez and Clark and then stood withthem as they all cried.
The dramatic scene marked the end of a case that has spanned 2½ years and gone to trial three times, with one trial endingin a hung jury and the other two in convictions although the firstwas 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 newwitness for the prosecution -- one that may have made thedifference 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 shehad watched the Dateline episode and then contacted Widmer throughthe FreeRyanWidmer.com website to show hersupport.
With phone records in evidence, the prosecution showed the jurythat Widmer and Crew continued to communicate after the initialwebsite conversation, via text messages and phone calls. The Iowawoman also testified that their relationship continued throughe-mail and instant messaging as well.
Her testimony, some believe, changed outcome of the third trialto guilty when the second trial ended in a hung jury.
Ginger Boyd, 33, who followed the trial from day 1 said theexpressions on the faces of jurors told her what verdict they hadreached.
"I knew it was guilty when they walked in," Boyd said.
She said she thinks Crew’s testimony is what convictedWidmer in the end.
Another factor in the third trial was the choice of anadditional verdict jurors could have reached.
During closing arguments, jurors were instructed that they couldfind Widmer guilty of involuntary manslaughter as an alternative ofguilty of murder or not guilty.
At the beginning of the trial, murder was the only charge on thetable. In the first trial Widmer was charged with aggravatedmurder, however, convicted of the lesser charge of murder. Thatverdict was subsequently overturned due to jury misconduct.
In his closing argument, Assistant Prosecutor Travis Vieux toldjurors that they didn’t have to like Crew to believe her. Hecalled Crew's testimony about Widmer's confession elievable.
"If you had to tell someone, why not tell someone you alreadyshared personal information with. A person you see asnon-threatening. What's the likelihood that Jennifer Crew is goingto travel here from Iowa to tell his story?" Vieux told jurors.
Defense attorney Clark claimed that the prosecutor's case wasfull of mistakes, misunderstandings and shortcuts and that it waslargely based on an argument that young people aren’t supposeto die for unexplained reasons.
"If this had been an 84-year-old woman in the bathtub instead ofa 24-year-old woman in a bathtub, we wouldn't have had the reactionto it that we've all had, because that's human nature.”
He argued that although young people aren’t suppose todie, sometimes they do.
After court adjourned and outside the courtroom, many expressedshock at the verdict.
One woman told reporters flatly: “He's notguilty!”
Widmer's cousin and father left the courtroom in tears, andquickly walked past the media through the lobby.
As he left the courtoom, a handcuffed Widmer said to reporters,“This is not right. This is not right. I’m innocent,I’m innocent. I would never have hurt my wife,never.”
Longtime supporter of Widmer and family friend, Molly Mahaliksaid it’s not over.
“It's not over... oh, no no no, it's not over.”
“Anyone who has sense enough to listen to the evidence"would know he's innocent, she said. “I thought it was veryclear cut, no evidence to convict. What is not tounderstand”
She sobbed as she hugged others outside the courthouse.
Defense attorneys Clark and Gutierrez walked out of thecourthouse, away from the media, his arm around her, their headsdown. At the end of the sidewalk, they hugged Widmer’s cousinand aunt.
The Prosecutor’s Office said in a press release issuedTuesday afternoon that it is pleased the trial over and thatjustice has been done for Sarah Widmer and her family.
“The jurors who have served on this case should becommended for their willingness to be a part of this process, andtheir diligence in reviewing the evidence,” read the releaseissued by Warren County Chief Assistant Prosecutor BruceMcGary.
Prosecutors commended the Hamilton Township Police and FireDepartments, the Sheriff’s Office and Coroner, Dr. RussellUptegrove, who “have worked tirelessly to ensure that justicewas done.”
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