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Mike DeWine meet Jess Burdine

Matt Westerhold • Feb 3, 2014 at 7:13 AM

He's 80, a working man; a family man; an agreeable man.

He's also a man who believes Sandusky County jail guards killed his son.

Jess Burdine fought for 6½ years for justice, presenting evidence and information that went un-refuted but still beaten back and ignored, callously and arrogantly by local officials and the courts.

Watch the interview with Jess Burdine by clicking HERE or in the player below

He and his wife paid more than $300,000 in legal fees and court costs — all of their retirement savings — to get a day in court for the men they believe responsible for killing Craig.

The effort failed, and with no options left, Jess Burdine again pressed for a criminal investigation. Sandusky County prosecutor Tom Stierwalt agreed to hand over the documentation Burdine and his attorney provided to the Ohio Attorney General in August.

“No criminal investigation took place until we started one five months ago,” Dan Tierney, a spokesman for DeWine, said last week, explaining the challenges in investigating an incident that happened so long ago.

It's a “cold case,” Tierney said.

How does a jailhouse death get cold? Why would local officials decline to conduct a criminal investigation after a violent death in the jail? The answers might seem obvious, and onerous, to some, perhaps many.

The answers are obvious to Jess Burdine.

In reports written immediately after Craig Burdine died on Aug. 11, 2007, jail guards involved said he became violent and had to be subdued. But surveillance video from the sally port at the jail show Burdine is incapacitated and non-responsive already, upon arrival.

The video is damaged, but near the end officers can be seen carrying him into the jail by his legs and arms, with Burdine facing up and his back parallel to the ground as they cart him quickly past the frame.

He would be dead just minutes later.

The surveillance camera appears to have malfunctioned, failing to record audio for more than 10 minutes after the deputy's cruiser arrives. A guard attempts to talk to an unresponsive Burdine but then the audio fades out and stops.

It's a gap in the tape — at the precise moment of importance — that would make Nixon blush.

Detective Sean O'Connell, who was with the Fremont Police Department at the time, never returned any of Jess Burdine's calls after an initial meeting with him the next day, when Jess Burdine was told his son was dead.

O'Connell was present at the autopsy by Lucas County deputy coroner Cynthia Beisser, however, and Beisser's conclusions mirrored the narrative jail officials and police provided her.

Beisser noted the massive injuries, lacerations, open wounds, bruises to his body but did not cite those, or the Tasering to his body that occurred, as factors, or even contributing factors in Burdine's death. She determined he died a sudden death brought on by excited delirium caused by drug and alcohol abuse. It is a casue of death used often when a death occurs involving police custody.


But famed forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden testified Beisser's conclusions are clearly wrong and Burdine died as a result of the injuries he sustained. He asphyxiated — suffocated — due to the shattered cartilage in his neck, according to Baden.


DeWine has relied on Baden in the past, and this will be DeWine's third go at bat in Sandusky County since being elected four years ago.


In 2012 he found no criminal wrongdoing when the same jail guard who subdued Burdine in the shower room at the jail was accused of sexually exploiting a mentally ill inmate who was denied her medications. The 21-year-old woman was kept naked in an observational jail cell and encouraged to masturbate in front of the guards.


Last year, DeWine assembled another grand jury but it too found no criminal wrongdoing in the botched investigation into the death of Jacob Limberios, despite the destruction of evidence, the failure to collect evidence or order an autopsy, the mishandling of witnesses and the failed lie detector tests.


Eventually excuses pile up too high, and officials in Sandusky County have a lot of explaining to do on a myriad of past and recent decisions as their mistakes crisscross and intersect, highlighting a corrupt and failed bureaucracy.


In the weeks ahead, DeWine must choose to stand with that, or against that.


He must choose to stand with Jess Burdine, or against him.


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