200 potential Widmer jurors get questionnaire
LEBANON — Two hundred Warren County residents are banned from discussing the Ryan Widmer bathtub murder case with anyone.
With a third trial looming for the bathtub drowning case in less than a month, a 103-question survey was mailed to potential jurors last week. The questionnaire is meant to help the prosecution and defense seat an impartial jury.
One glaring difference between this survey and the one sent out to potential jurors last spring is in bold letters. “You are no longer permitted to read about, research, watch news accounts of, or discuss the case with any other person,” the missive reads.
Common Pleas Judge Neal Bronson extended his gag order last month to include potential jurors. Twice as many registered voters have been summoned for the third trial set for Jan. 18.
Widmer, 30, is accused of drowning his wife, Sarah, in the bathtub of their Hamilton Twp. home in August 2008. First responders became suspicious when they found a virtually dry drowning scene when they arrived minutes after Widmer dialed 911.
During the first trial in the spring of 2009, Widmer was found guilty. Bronson ordered a new trial after several jurors admitted they conducted drying experiments at home. A second jury deadlocked this June after a 16-day trial.
Unlike the previous Q&A, Widmer and the case are specifically addressed in the questionnaire. In the previous questionnaire, jurors weren’t told but they likely had an inkling because it asked about their knowledge of drowning and certain medical issues like seizures and cardiac events.
There are 10 questions designed to gauge the potential juror’s knowledge of the case and whether or not they have “formed an opinion of Ryan Widmer’s innocence or guilt or the merits of the case.”
University of Dayton Professor Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a jury expert, said he believes any juror who answers those questions in the affirmative should be questioned individually during jury selection. He said it’s human nature to tell someone, especially an authority figure like a judge, what you think he wants to hear, namely that a person can set aside personal feelings or beliefs.