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Father to DeWine: Don't cover up a homicide

Register • Apr 16, 2014 at 7:49 AM

If the Ohio Attorney General's Office does not seek criminal indictments "then they too are guilty of covering up a homicide," Jess Burdine, 81, wrote in a 12-page, hand-written letter he sent to Matt Donahue, the assistant AG in charge of DeWine's special prosecutions unit. "All the facts and evidence clearly proves and defines Craig's death as a homicide."

Donahue has not replied to Jess Burdine's letter, which included dozens of documents from depositions, witness statements and other information the family has gathered during the six years they fought the Sandusky County Sheriff's Office and the Fremont Police Department, neither of which ever conducted a criminal investigation of Craig Burdine's death. 

In fact, the AG's office and its Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents have had little contact with Jess Burdine, or his family, since launching the only criminal probe ever conducted, in August, six years after Craig Burdine died.

During an initial visit last summer, Matt Donahue, the prosecutor in the AG's office heading up the investigation, and Kevin Cooper, a BCI special agent told the family it might be difficult to press criminal charges due to the time that's elapsed since Craig Burdine died, citing a potential problem with the statute of limitations.

But there is no time clock for homicide or other related charges, Jess Burdine said, and statutory limits on other potential charges can be suspended when government employees are suspected of having caused a delay in the discovery of a potential crime.

Ohio Attorney General spokesman Dan Tierney also suggested earlier in the investigation that determining whether any criminal wrongdoing occurred was made more difficult because a civil lawsuit filed by the family was dismissed. The burden of proof in criminal court proceedings is a higher standard than the burden of proof for civil court, Tierney said.

It's not clear, however, how the civil case reached an accurate conclusion since there was never any criminal investigation preceding it.  

Sheriff's Capt. Sean O'Connell contends he conducted a full investigation of the circumstances and cleared the officers, the jail guards and the deputies of any wrongdoing. But O'Connell, who was a Fremont police detective at the time, never interviewed the officers or others involved during his review.

And despite his claim he did a full investigation, he testified in 2010 he did not seek to determine what caused Craig Burdine's death, and was only looking at the circumstances that led up to it.

“What happened out there in the jail between the jailers and Mr. Burdine that's between them. Let them do their investigation,” O'Connell stated in a deposition explaining he was only reviewing the circumstances, not the cause of Burdine's death.

Read O'Connell's deposition

Jess Burdine said he hopes DeWine and his investigators don't take the same approach. 

"I would hate to think they'd make themselves part of this and not pursue charges," Jess Burdine said Tuesday. "What is this country coming to if the Ohio Attorney General is going to cover up a homicide?"

DeWine has had little to say in the eight months since he launched the criminal investigation. On March 13 he told the Register the investigation likely would finish up within two weeks. 

But Tierney said on Tuesday that "due to circumstances beyond our control regarding experts and investigative leads, it is taking longer to conclude than initially estimated."

Watch the interview with DeWine

Tierney declined to detail whether the jail guards, deputies, Fremont police officers or the detectives and commanders who later reviewed the incident have been interviewed by Donahue, Cooper or any investigators involved in the criminal probe.

"We cannot comment on witness interviews," he said. 

He also declined to talk about any further contact that might have occurred between the investigators and the Burdine family. 

"We also cannot comment on response provided to the Burdine family regarding correspondence with investigators. We can confirm receiving the letter you referenced; however it is part of the investigatory file. The letter and its concerns will be reviewed and subject to further investigative follow-up, as all tips are, in an ongoing investigation."

Jess Burdine and his family remain hopeful despite the delays. 

"This isn't about us going after the police," said Craig Burdine's brother, Eric Burdine. "This is about finding a way to forgive. I want them to come up with an answer so we can forgive." 

His brother was "a good man," Eric Burdine said. "What they did to him was disgusting and it was wrong."

Sandusky County officials contend Burdine died from "excited delirium," a condition often used to explain sudden deaths that occur while people are in police custody, but rarely used by coroners to describe other deaths that don't involve police. 

Read the petition

The family contends Craig Burdine died after a jail guard put a choke hold on him shortly after he was dragged inside the jail by his arms and legs. 

Lori Burdine, Craig's sister, said the family has provided numerous "smoking guns" that show jail personnel caused her brother's death, including witness testimony and the time of death recorded by a heart monitor, among other information. 

Jess Burdine said he wants DeWine and his investigators do the right thing. 

"I hope they have the courage to bring charges," he said. 


Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's office in 2012 investigated the alleged sexploitation by Sandusky County Jail guards of a mentally ill female inmate. The woman was kept naked in an observational jail cell and encouraged to maturbate and make lewd comments to the guards for their personal sexual gratification.

The AG's special prosecutor presented evidence to a grand jury, which found the sexploitation included no criminal wrongdoing.

A grand jury called by the AG in October to hear evidence in its investigation into the death of Jacob Limberios in March 2012 also found no criminal wrongdoing. 

In addition to the Burdine probe, DeWine also is currently conducting an investigation into allegations that computers used by former Fremont Mayor Terry Overmyer and city computers of other officials involved with the Fremont Reservoir project were "wiped clean," about the time each left office, removing public records related to the cost overruns that reached a whopping $36 million. 

The final price tag for the reservoir  — which had an original cost estimate of under $9 million — was about $45 million .

DeWine's office was first notified of the criminal complaint in early 2013. 

The Register also has reported the difficulties numerous other families have experienced with Sandusky County officials and has discussed those concerns with Attorney General DeWine in detail, asking questions families have raised. Click on the links below to read more. 

• Death of Lee Naus

• Isabel Cordle

• Trooper's sex lesson

• Stabbed, beaten burned & zapped

• Bryan Jones

• Limberios shooting saga

• Craig Burdine

• Sexploited jail inmate

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