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DeWine: Jacob’s death was an accidental shooting

Jessica Cuffman • Nov 21, 2013 at 2:39 PM

So said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine during an hourlong news conference Wednesday in the Sandusky County Courthouse, following a three-week grand jury inquiry that included testimony from 55 witnesses and review of hundreds of documents.   


The grand jury determined Limberios was holding his .357 Magnum when it fired and ended his life, said visiting Judge Dale Crawford, who is presiding over a lawsuit filed against Sandusky County coroner John Wukie and the county by the Limberios family.


Watch the entire press conference in the player below

“His death was an accident,” Crawford said. “I hope with this investigation, the family and friends and the community will believe Mr. DeWine and his staff have done everything they could to bring this matter to an end.”

Wukie rejected the finding, according to a news article in the Port Clinton News Herald.

“The ruling of suicide doesn’t require the intent,” he told the News Herald. “The fact that this was accidental, I don’t find inconsistent with suicide.”

The grand jury chose not to consider any criminal charges against the three witnesses — Brittany Bowers, Will Lewis and Evan Neidler — who were in the York Township house that night.

Read about and watch the Limberios family's reaction HERE

It does not appear any of the three were called to testify before the grand jury. The AG’s office said they did not give “sworn testimony,” but each talked with the state’s investigators.

The grand jury’s finding has no impact on the cause-of-death ruling Wukie signed in March 2012, which states Jacob committed suicide but might not have known the weapon was loaded. Wukie, as county coroner, is the only person authorized to change the death certificate, DeWine said, and he has thus far refused to do so.

New evidence

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office took over the investigation about six months ago after Crawford fired Tiffin attorney Dean Henry as criminal prosecutor and removed Sandusky County officials from further involvement in the investigation, citing conflicts in the way they were conducting the probe.

Getting the case 15 months after Jake was shot hampered the investigation, DeWine said.

Among the problems the delay presented:

• The scene of the shooting had been cleared out and scrubbed down; the bullet hole in the ceiling had been repaired.

• Clothing Limberios wore was discarded by the funeral home that processed his body, and clothing worn by the three witnesses was gone, making any analysis of blood splatter impossible.

• Witnesses had “chilled” since Limberios’ death, in response to the intial investigation, the filing of a lawsuit months later to have his death certificate changed, the re-opening of the investigation and the media attention surrounding the entire case.

• Evidence obtained from the autopsies of Limberios’ body was muddled, tainted by funeral home alterations to the body, decomposition of the body and changes made by a forensic pathologist when the family obtained the first autopsy after Sandusky County officials refused to do one.

But other evidence DeWine’s investigators discovered led to the clear conclusion Limberios shot himself, including new statements from witnesses that revealed details Sandusky County investigators were unable to uncover.

Both Neidler and Bowers said in interviews with BCI investigators that moments before Limberios’ death, he was holding the gun in his right hand and pacing back and forth.

Limberios and the witnesses knew there was still one live round inside the weapon, left from when they all had been in the backyard of the home firing it before they went inside that night.

Limberios lifted the gun and placed the barrel toward his head, as if scratching an itch.

Then the weapon fired.

In analyzing the gun, BCI scientists found strands of hair and blood on the barrel.

Additionally, two independent forensic pathologists, Michael Baden, former New York medical examiner, and Vincent Di Maio, retired San Antonio, Texas, medical examiner, both analyzed materials produced by the five doctors involved in the case before the attorney general’s office took over the investigation.

Both said the shot was likely self-inflicted.

Finally, BCI scientists test-fired the gun to see how well it functioned. They found that 30 percent of the time, it fired without the trigger even being pulled because of a malfunctioning safety mechanism.

DeWine thoroughly described the details of what his investigators did, depicting a clear path as to how his office reached the final conclusion that Limberios, indeed, accidentally shot himself — parallel to the grand jury’s findings.

“He died in a horrible and tragic accident,” DeWine said.

The dozens of people in the courtroom, including Limberios’ family and friends, Sandusky County investigators and media members, remained quiet while DeWine presented his findings.

Sandusky Co. investigators

DeWine made brief comments Wednesday about how the investigation into Limberios’ death was handled before his office became involved.

Wukie didn’t visit the scene of the shooting the night of Limberios’ death and made a suicide ruling from accounts provided by deputies and EMS personnel.

He also didn’t order an autopsy.

Sandusky County deputies closed the investigation into Limberios death a month later. They didn’t take enough photographs for pathologists to use in their autopsies, and they failed to collect clothing from the crime scene that BCI investigators would have found useful.

“It’s very easy for us to come in after something happened and with the luxury of months of investigation, thousands of hours and dozens and dozens of people,” DeWine said. “It’s, frankly, very easy for us to point out what should have been done.

“Hindsight is always better. Local officials, whether it be the sheriff, whether it be the coroner, are under immense pressure.”

DeWine declined to say whether BCI investigators determined who destroyed the evidence or whether that information was presented to the grand jury.

The value of the investigation is in using it as a guide for the future, he said. “You try to learn when mistakes are made, reconstruct it, think about what could have been done differently,” DeWine said. “What we learned from them, it would be prudent to do the autopsy.”

In the long run, the public is entitled to know exactly what happened, he said. Sheriff Kyle Overmyer, who assisted at the scene the night of the shooting, said he was satisfied with the grand jury’s findings. He refused to comment on whether he would have handled the investigation differently. He also refused to address the destruction of evidence.

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