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Prosecutor: Jury can be seated in drowning retrial

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[September 18, 2009]  DAYTON, Ohio (AP) -- Prosecutors are confident they will be able to seat a jury for the retrial of an Ohio man convicted of drowning his wife in the bathtub, despite an upcoming network television show about the case.

"Dateline NBC" plans to air a show Friday on the case of Ryan Widmer, 28, who was found guilty of murder in the drowning of 24-year-old Sarah Widmer. A judge in July granted him a new trial, citing misconduct by jurors who conducted their own bathroom experiments at home and shared the results during deliberations.

Warren County Prosecutor Rachel Hutzel said Thursday she does not believe the additional publicity will make it impossible to seat a jury in Lebanon, about halfway between Dayton and Cincinnati.

"'Dateline' is in the entertainment business, and we are in the law enforcement business," Hutzel said.


Hutzel said she decided not to appeal the retrial order after an appeals court refused to hear the case because she wanted to spare the victim's family the extra waiting. Widmer was released from jail earlier this month on $400,000 bond.

"He's out, and the family of the victim has to deal with that," said Mike Nolan, spokesman for the prosecutor's office. "We think the evidence is strong enough that we will go forward with the trial."

Attorneys for Widmer said prosecutors knew they had a weak case for appeal.

Nolan said he expects the retrial to be set for early next year.

A jury in April convicted Widmer of murder in the drowning at the couple's Hamilton Township home, just north of Cincinnati. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. Widmer maintained his innocence after the verdict, saying he loved his wife and didn't hurt her.

During the trial, the prosecution argued that a bruise on Sarah Widmer's neck indicated she was grabbed and her head was forced underwater. The defense said she may have fallen asleep in the tub or suffered a medical problem, and resuscitation attempts could have caused the bruising.

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Defense attorney Charlie Rittgers noted that friends and co-workers testified that the woman sometimes fell asleep at odd times and in unusual places. He also said there were no defensive wounds on her and no marks on her husband.

Paramedics testified that the woman's hair was wet, but her surroundings and her husband seemed to be dry, even though he claimed he pulled her from the tub while trying to save her.

In requesting a new trial, the defense said that some jurors performed at-home experiments on how long it takes a body to air-dry after a shower or bath and that those experiments influenced other jurors.

Some jurors signed affidavits stating that at least three fellow jurors acknowledged timing how long it took them to air-dry and shared that information during deliberations, court documents state.


Rittgers argued that Widmer didn't get a fair trial because he was denied the opportunity to cross-examine and confront the jurors.

The prosecution had argued that even if some jurors experimented, the issue did not significantly influence the verdict.

[Associated Press; By JAMES HANNAH]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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