Ryan Widmer talks about bathtub death case on ‘Dateline NBC’

Ryan Widmer collapses into tears Feb. 14, 2011, after the jury’s guilty verdict is read in Warren County Common Pleas Court in Lebanon, Ohio. FILE

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Ryan Widmer collapses into tears Feb. 14, 2011, after the jury’s guilty verdict is read in Warren County Common Pleas Court in Lebanon, Ohio. FILE

Attorney says magistrate got it wrong on appeal

UPDATE @ 9:30 p.m. (Sept. 16)

Ryan Widmer, convicted after three trials in the drowning death of his newlywed wife, Sarah, speaks about the case tonight on “Dateline NBC.”


Ryan Widmer’s attorney Monday continued her fight for his freedom, despite a ruling from a federal magistrate judge that further appeals would be frivolous.

“Because reasonable jurists would not disagree with this conclusion, petitioner should be denied a certificate of appealability and the court should certify to the Sixth Circuit that any appeal would be objectively frivolous,” U.S. District Magistrate Judge Michael R. Merz wrote earlier.

MORE: Federal judge will not free Ryan Widmer

After three trials in Warren County and numerous appeals, including one to the United States Supreme Court, Widmer, 36, remains behind bars on a 15-years to life sentence. His first parole board hearing is scheduled for July 2025.

He was convicted of drowning his newlywed wife, Sarah, in the bathtub of their Warren County home in August 2008.

Widmer’s appellate attorney, Michele Berry-Godsey, filed 17 objections to Merz’s findings and recommendations and asked the court to either free him or at least allow the case to proceed to the appellate level.

“Even if this court disagrees with Widmer on any of the procedural or substantive issues, it cannot be said that Widmer’s claims are objectively unreasonable and/or frivolous,” she wrote in the 92-page document. “For each of Widmer’s claims, there are debatable arguments, which reasonable jurists could adopt in Widmer’s favor.”

Berry-Godsey told the Journal-News the magistrate judge got it wrong.

“The court’s recommendation to dismiss Ryan’s federal habeas petition is filled with errors, and we filed objections today laying out all of those errors for the district judge to review,” she told the Journal-News. “We have strong issues, and we are confident that the courts will eventually side with us. Until then, we’re not giving up. When an innocent person is in prison, you never give up.”

RELATED: Widmer loses appeal in U.S. Supreme Court

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell has maintained Widmer is guilty, and his office is obligated to fight every appeal filed. He said the case is closed from his vantage point since the Ohio Attorney General’s Office is now in charge.

“From my perspective the case is concluded to the point I no longer read anything that’s filed in relation to Widmer,” he said. “That’s how far it is off our radar.”

Main arguments by Widmer’s appeals attorney have included:

  • the home's bathtub was illegally seized
  • testimony regarding "prints" on the tub was based on "junk science"
  • Widmer should have been allowed to test Sarah's DNA for a rare genetic disorder
  • juries should have been told about lead detective Jeff Braley's alleged misrepresentations of his qualifications.

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