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DeWine's credibility questioned

Register • May 22, 2014 at 6:00 AM

As he struggled mightily in recent weeks against attacks on his credibility handling a grand jury hearing evidence in a 2007 jailhouse death, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine continued to dodge unresolved questions about a 2013 grand jury.

In April, DeWine's prosecutor Matt Donahue filed a court motion asking visiting Judge Dale Crawford to affirm the findings of a grand jury that determined local officials incorrectly ruled Jacob Limberios committed suicide on March 2, 2012.

Donahue stated in the court filing there was no public notice made that a grand jury would be formed, an apparent violation of the requirements in the Ohio Revised Code. Crawford told the Register he filed a response to Donahue's motion affirming the grand jury as requested, but he and court officials refuse to provide a copy of that response.

Crawford and court officials also have refused to provide a filed copy of the judge's order to form a grand jury. It's likely it would represent another apparent violation if the order was not filed with the court. Crawford did not disagree when it was suggested to him the failure to provide the documents is an indication they do not exist. 

The fair and open statutes governing grand jury selection are designed to assure the public's confidence in the jury system, according to legal experts. DeWine, however, has called the potential violations procedural mistakes, suggesting they don't matter.

Crawford also in recent weeks has contended he never filed a gag order suppressing the records in the case. The Register, however, received an unfiled copy of the order and Crawford's contention it doesn't exist is not supported by the documentary record.

Sandusky County clerk of courts Tracy Overmyer also previously cited the gag order as the reason in denying the Register access to court records. 

"I am unable to forward that order, because it states that it should be included in the documents held under seal," Overmyer told the Register in February.

But Crawford can't recall it.  

“There is no gag order,” Crawford told the Register in early May in a response to an email inquiring about it, and asking about other discrepancies in the information he and court officials have provided. Crawford has repeatedly ignored the other questions he's been asked.


Meanwhile, Sandusky County coroner John Wukie simply ignored the grand jury's findings, refusing to correct the suicide ruling he made in Limberios' death, which DeWine said previously “makes no sense.”

Wukie, who never conducted any sort of investigation, is the only public official who's suggested it was a suicide. He's had difficulty providing a coherent explanation for the ruling but continues to thumb his nose at DeWine and the Limberios family.

Wukie does not respond to telephone inquiries and has refused to make his email address public.

The Burdine grand jury formed May 6. Unlike the Limberios grand jury, which was formed in secret in an apparent violation of state law, this one was selected in a public setting.

Jess Burdine, Craig's father, pressed for a criminal investigation for six years before DeWine agreed in August to conduct one, but Jess Burdine has been questioning DeWine's intent since the grand jury was seated.

Jess Burdine told the Register he fears Donahue is misleading grand jurors about the circumstances surrounding his son's death in an effort to protect public officials from potential criminal indictments.

Jess Burdine said he's asked Donahue to call the police officers, sheriff's employees and EMTs who were at the jail the night Craig died to testify in front of the grand jury, but Donahue has refused to say what his intentions are regarding witnesses or whether he is seeking any criminal indictments.

DeWine's investigators ignored a report from Dr. Michael Baden that determined Craig Burdine was the victim of a homicide inside the jail. DeWine called Baden a top-notch expert when he consulted him during the Limberios investigation, but he never contacted him during the Burdine criminal investigation.

DeWine has refused to say why Baden was not contacted. 

Jess Burdine said an AG investigator told him they had an expert in Ohio “who was even better than Baden.” But Jess, 80, said he fears the reason Donahue doesn't want Baden called as a witness is because he doesn't want grand jurors to hear the evidence his son was killed.

Baden determined Craig Burdine died as a result of asphyxiation caused by compression of his airway and the fractured cartilage in his neck that happened when a jail guard used a chokehold on him. The jail guards and Fremont police officers involved all wrote in witness statements that Craig Burdine was being combative before he died. They wrestled with him and used a Taser on him while he was still handcuffed and shackled inside the jail in the moments before he died.

But surveillance video from the police cruisers and the jail doesn't show Burdine being combative and suggest he is barely conscious during the entire struggle. Not a single frame of the video, which has gaps in the picture and audio, show Burdine being combative.

Wukie ruled Burdine's death was self-inflicted caused by alcohol and drug intoxification and a condition called excited delirium, which is often used to explain sudden deaths of individuals in police custody but is rarely used — if ever — to explain sudden deaths that don't involve police.

The scientific basis for excited delirium is highly contested and controversial, and Baden determined the drug and alcohol levels in Craig Burdine's system were far too low to cause his death. Burdine had massive injuries all over his body when he died.

In four days of grand jury hearings since May 6, it appears none of the officers or jail employees have been called as witnesses, and Donahue has refused to say whether Baden will be called to testify. Baden told the Register in late-April that DeWine's investigators never contacted him during their investigation.

He said he stands by his homicide ruling, however, and was ready and willing to testify in front of the grand jury.


Donahue has not returned Jess Burdine's calls since he contacted him last week about what he says is misinformation Donahue is providing about where his son was when he died. Jess Burdine said Donahue suggested Craig Burdine died at Fremont Hospital, but the medical record clearly shows the time of death and that it occurred inside the jail.

Donahue and DeWine — like Crawford — are also ignoring inquiries from the Register.

The Burdine grand jury, which has been erratically scheduled with starts and stops over just four days of hearings, is expected to reconvene Tuesday.

This grand jury is the third one DeWine has led looking into the actions and behavior of local law enforcement officials stemming from complaints made by members of the public. DeWine's two previous grand juries both cleared local officials.  

A grand jury in 2012 determined there was no criminal wrongdoing in the sexual exploitation by jail guards of an inmate who was kept naked inside an observational jail cell for hours and was encouraged by the guards to masturbate and perform other lewd acts. 

The county fired both guards but agreed to give both men job references and paid them $5,000 each in exchange for a promise they would not make disparaging remarks about Sandusky Counrty Sheriff Kyle Overmyer. 

The Limberios grand jury, which determined in November that Jake's death was accidental, also found no criminal wrongdoing in the destruction of evidence and other standard practice violations that occurred during the local investigation of Limberios' death.

The investigation was re-assigned to DeWine in June 2013 — 14 months after Jacob Limberios' death — when it was determined local officials had created conflicting interests during their botched investigation. 

Jess Burdine said he sees a pattern that indicates to him DeWine is protecting local officials.

“They don't call witnesses and they don't present evidence because they don't want to indict anyone,” he said. 

The Limberios family wants DeWine to request Crawford order Wukie to change the death certificate, but a spokesman for DeWine previously said potential litigation resulting from a change precluded DeWine from taking that action. It's not clear who or what agency DeWine might be protecting from a lawsuit by declining to make the request. 

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