Widmer defiant in interview with 'Dateline NBC'

LEBANON — After avoiding to take the stand in court three times in the murder of his wife, Ryan Widmer chose a national audience to tell his story.

Appearing on “Dateline NBC” Friday night, Widmer continued to deny he killed his wife, Sarah Widmer, in their Warren County home in August 2008.

“No, I did not. I couldn’t hurt Sarah emotionally, let alone physically,” Widmer said when asked if he killed his wife.

Widmer, 30, was interviewed at the Warren Correctional Institution near Lebanon, where he is serving a 15-years-to-life sentence after being convicted in his third trial.

It’s the first time Widmer has spoken about the drowning of his 24-year-old wife in the bathtub of the young couple’s home. The only other time he spoke was after guilty verdicts were read in his first and third trials. The first trial was overturned after jury misconduct was found, and the second trial ended with a hung jury.

Widmer’s conviction is now on appeal, and while the judges in the 12th District Court of Appeals can only consider facts on the record, legal expert Ian Friedman, past president of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, said the “Dateline NBC” interview could be damaging.

“Ryan’s decision to give the on-air interview is very dangerous. While what he said technically cannot be a part of the review process, it very easily could leave a negative impression upon reviewing judges, depending upon how it was viewed,” Friedman said. “For instance, his questioning of  a number of witnesses' integrity may be frowned upon. That message may not resonate well with some.”

Widmer, who appears to have lost more weight in prison and seemed nervous during the interview, called his former mother-in-law a liar and accused police of fabricating the drowning scene.

Sarah’s mother, Ruth Ann Steward, testified in all three trials and each time her words were more strident, regarding her daughter’s relationship with Widmer. In the last trial, she said Widmer and her daughter were “hateful” toward each other.

“She’s a liar,” Widmer said. “We were never mean to each other.”

Assistant prosecutors Travis Vioux and John Arnold continued to stand behind the decision to charge and convict Widmer.

“He killed her,” Arnold said in the “Dateline” interview.

In a portion of the interview that was not shown on TV but appears on “Dateline’s” website, Widmer talks affectionately about how he proposed to Sarah, but then later unveils he is engaged to another woman, Sarah Manherz, the mother of his eight-month-old son Ryan.

He said he proposed to Sarah Widmer by putting the engagement ring on their dog C.J.’s collar, and sent him into the bathroom where his wife was showering. Four months after the wedding, he found her dead in the same spot.

“It’s a hard situation I have to think about,” he said.

Manherz, who hails from New York, befriended Widmer after the first “Dateline” show aired in the summer of 2009, when Widmer’s first guilty verdict was tossed. She said she and Widmer were intimate when she spent Thanksgiving at Jill Widmer’s house in 2009. Widmer had been out of prison for three months.

She was pregnant during Widmer’s second trial and gave birth before his third trial.

“I was shocked by how much he looked like me,” Widmer said about his son. “It was an overwhelming feeling of just joy. You never know that feeling of having a kid. It’s amazing. It just killed me when she was in the hospital and only being able to communicate with her over the phone. It was something taken away from me I’ll never get back.”

Manherz echoed Widmer’s claims that he is “100 percent innocent,” saying if she thought for a second he was guilty she wouldn’t be planning a life with him.

“I felt he was railroaded, I really do,” Manherz said. “I’m still in shock I can’t believe this happened to him. I feel like a piece of me is gone.”

Appellate attorney Michele Berry, who is representing Widmer, has requested evidence from Widmer’s three trials be properly preserved and has asked computer records from a jury member in the third trail be collected to protect his future federal Constitutional claims.

Berry wants evidence preserved in case future genetic testing can be used. The defense has always claimed Widmer’s wife could have died from an unknown genetic disorder

The defense also claims a jury member was improperly searching Internet sites during the third trial. The prosecution has said the defense is on a “fishing expedition.”

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