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Day 2: Witnesses get squeamish

Melissa Topey • Jun 2, 2014 at 6:12 AM

Jess Burdine, after close to seven years of an expensive legal battle, had his day before a grand jury telling his son’s story.

Burdine said he cried as he told the jury who his son, Craig Burdine, was growing up.

“I could not help it,” Burdine said.

Craig Burdine, died at the Sandusky County Jail on Aug. 11, 2007.

The Burdine family contends a jail guard caused Craig’s death and the Fremont police and the sheriff’s office conspired to cover it up.

County guards dragged him from a police cruiser and into the facility. Craig was already suffering massive injuries, including an open wound to his head, a large burn on his back and abrasions and contusions all over his body when police arrested him after a fight in a Fremont neighborhood.

Craig died just minutes after he was taken into the jail. Police allegedly pepper-sprayed him when they arrested him, and he was still handcuffed and shackled when an officer allegedly repeatedly applied a Taser shock to his body inside the jail. Another jail guard used a chokehold on him, according to Burdine’s family, which caused his death.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office agreed in August to conduct a criminal investigation into his death.

Local officials never conducted one after Burdine died. Although then-Fremont police detective Sean O’Connell told the Burdine family they would fully investigate, he never again contacted the family or returned their calls, after informing them of Craig’s death. 

Jess Burdine was on the stand for more than three hours Tuesday and told about past assaults by Port Clinton and another at the hands of Oak Harbor police that resulted in a $600,000 jury award against the department.  

Those beatings caused his son to suffer from post traumatic stress, and he had a hard time sleeping.

Burdine told jurors his son’s death was not a tragic accident; it was homicide.

Burdine was in the room by himself without an attorney. 

But about a dozen protesters stood on the courthouse sidewalk to show support for Jess Burdine and his family and other families that have lodged complaints against Sandusky County law enforcement officials.

They also said they are protesting against DeWine, who they fear intends to limit evidence jurors hear to avoid getting criminal indictments. DeWine’s office has responded to the family in a similar fashion as the Fremont police and sheriff’s office did previously, at times ignoring their inquiries and not responding to phone calls.  

One witness, who appeared to be a law enforcement agent, testified before Jess Burdine for about an hour beginning at 9 a.m. 

That man would not say what testimony he provided. He also declined to say who he was when asked by a reporter after he was dismissed from the closed courtroom where the jury is meeting. 

Two agents from the Bureau of Criminal Identification — an arm of the AG’s office — patrolled the courthouse during the hearing but were not called as witnesses.  

A young man was called in to testify just after juror members returned from lunch, but he was there just a couple minutes before his testimony concluded. Burdine said Donahue told him the man was testifying in another case but they slipped him in because he had a driver waiting for him.

There was no other case to be presented before the grand jury on Tuesday, said Sandusky County Prosecutor Tom Stierwalt and administrator Brock Kimmet. DeWine’s lead prosecutor, Matt Donahue, declined to comment when asked about the mystery witness and other questions.

Paul Rogers and Ansencion Anciso, Jr. sat together for hours on the benches in a courthouse hallway outside the prosecutor's office waiting to be called. Both men were in the jail the morning of Aug. 11, 2007, and both men gave depositions previously. They each told a Register reporter they didn’t understand why they were called early and made to wait all afternoon. 

Rogers complained he was missing work, and Anciso said he was missing sleep and had work a 12-hour shift later on Tuesday. 

They also both said they weren’t sure what they were expected to testify about. 

Anciso was deposed in February 2010 and said he saw a corrections officer, fitting the description of Frank Kaiser, place a chokehold on Burdine.

“I do not want to get involved. I do not know anything. I did not see anything,” Anciso said when asked about his statements in the deposition. 

He later testified for about a half-hour. Rogers was in front of grand jurors just a few minutes. 

Both men left the courthouse quickly afterward.

Sheriff Kyle Overmyer also was at the courthouse on the second floor where the grand jury meets and the witnesses wait to be called. He walked to Kimmet’s office. Overmyer went with Kimmet into a vacant room that leads to the courtroom where grand jury is meeting while Burdine was testifying. He left within a minute.

The grand jury is not expected to resume hearings until Thursday. 

DeWine has refused to say whether he intends to seek criminal indictments from the grand jury or say whether Dr. Michael Baden would be called as a witness. 

Baden, a forensic pathologist, examined the autopsy, videos and witness statements and determined broken cartilage in Craig Burdine’s neck from the chokehold and compression on his airway caused him to suffocate.  

Baden told the Register neither DeWine nor his prosecutors or BCI agents contacted him during their nearly seven-month criminal investigation. DeWine has refused to say why Baden was never contacted. 

Jess Burdine said he asked Donahue and the grand jurors to get testimony from Baden and other witnesses. 


Live updates, Tuesday, May 13, 2014

4:54 p.m. — The grand jury has left for the day.

4:48 p.m. — The last witness has left the courthouse after just a few minutes in front of the grand jury. 

4:40 p.m. — The first witness from the jail has left the courthouse. A second witness was called in to testify. There are no other witnesses waiting. Both men told the Register prior to testifying they weren'y sure why they were called, saying they had not seen anything despite their earlier court depositions in which both recounted witnessing the events leading up to Burdine's death. 

4:03 p.m. — Jess Burdine is done for  the day. He's testimoney will resume on Thursday at 8:45 a.m. They cut short the Burdine testimony to bring on a witness who was at the jai the morning of Burdine's death.

1:15 p.m. — Grand jury members reconvened. Jess Burdine is back on the witness stand. Before Burdine was called in a young man was called in to provide testimony before the grand jury. It is unknown who that young man is but Donahue told Burdine it related to another case.

12:37 p.m. — The jury broke for lunch. Jess Burdine said he is giving testimony about his son's youth and about prior attacks on his son by law enforcement. He said it  is going well and the jurors are paying attention,

11:10 a.m. —  Donahue has called Jess Burdine to the stand. Burdine told him he had evidence he wanted to bring in. Both men gathered up the bags of documents and a board with autopsy photos of Craig Burdine on one side and photos on the other side of barely seen injuries law enforcement said they sustained from a combative Craig Burdine.

The first witness refused to disclose who he was or what testimony he provided. It appears the man, who was wearing a pin on his lapel, was law enforcement, possible the Bureau of Criminal Identification, a division of the Attorney General's office.

9:50 a.m. — Jess Burdine said he spoke to prosecutor Matt Donahue on Monday and Donahue told him he could ask grand jurors to subpoena Dr. Michael Baden. Jess Burdine did not say why Donahue himself refused to subpoena Baden and other witnesses the family wants called, including witnesses who were inside the jail when Craig Burdine died.

The first witness called has not been identified but has been testifying before the grand jury for more than 90 minutes.  

9:20 a.m. — The first witness has taken the stand. Jess Burdine is sitting in the hall waiting for his turn. He is scheduled to take the stand at 10 a.m.

8:30 a.m. — Grand jurors are arriving at the Sandusky County courthouse. Proceedings are expected to begin at 9 a.m.

Jess Burdine, 80, was subpoened on Friday and is expected to be one of the first witness to testify. The grand jury was seated May 6 and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's lead prosecutor, Matt Donahue, spoke with them for about two hours before ending the first day of hearings.

Donahue didn't give Jess Burdine any information when the two talked last week about what he planned for today's proceedings. 

DeWine has refused to say whether Dr. Michael Baden, who determined Craig Burdine was the victim of a homicide at the Sandusky County jail in August 2007, will be called as a witness. Jess Burdine told the Register one of DeWine's investigators told him they found a better pathologist who would be called instead of Baden. The exchange furthered the familiy's suspicions DeWine plans to limit information the grand jury receives to avoid getting any criminal indictments. 

The Burdine family has been fighting for more than six years to get a criminal investigation of Craig Burdine's death. Baden determined he suffocated due to the fractured cartilage in his neck and compression of his airway. Craig Burdine was handcuffed and shackled when he was repeatedly Tasered shortly after jail guards and Fremont police officers dragged him inside the jail from a police cruiser.

Video show Burdine was barely conscious when he was brought to the jail. Local officials have not presented any information that refutes the family's contentions that a jail guard caused his death. 

Protesters and the Justice for Jake and Ella group plan to monitor the grand jury proceedings from outside the courtroom to determine what other witnesses are brought in to testify. Check back here for updates as they happen. 

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