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Witness calls out DeWine's prosecutor

Melissa Topey • Jun 2, 2014 at 6:23 PM

Cell phone use during grand jury testimony triggered a state investigation Tuesday when a witness called out Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's lead prosecutor for using his phone during her testimony.  

Laurie Burdine, the sister of Craig Burdine, testified in the morning during the fifth day of grand jury hearings looking into the 2007 death of her brother at the Sandusky County jail. 

She was in the midst of answering a grand juror's question when she noticed prosecutor Matt Donahue appeared to be texting on his phone, she said.

She stopped mid-sentence, but Donahue did not appear to even notice the interruption until she asked him what he was doing texting, she said.

He denied he was texting, and responded that he gets a lot of phone calls, Laurie Burdine said.

The exchange prompted Laurie Burdine to tell Donahue what she overheard earlier while waiting in a courthouse hallway to be called to testify.

She was in a waiting area near Sandusky County sheriff's deputies and other law enforcement who also were there to testify, she said, when she noticed Deputy Eric Arquette looking down at his cell phone and say, “'Jess told the prosecutor this morning.'”

Her father Jess Burdine was on the stand at that moment.

Laurie Burdine said she feared Arquette was being fed information about what her father, Jess, was telling grand jurors. 

Arquette said no comment when asked by a reporter if he was receiving communications about grand jury testimony.

He said no when asked by the reporter if he's received text messages about grand jury testimony.

When asked about the phone and the texts in it, Chief Deputy Bruce Hirt interjected, saying the phone Arquette was using is not a county owned phone. They declined to show the text messages he'd received on the phone. 

But a short time after the exchange with Donahue in front of grand jurors, Laurie Burdine was contacted by agents working for DeWine and she met with them at about 4 p.m. Tuesday. 

She told them what she'd overhead. She also told them about the exchange with Donahue.

They seemed to indicate to her that Arquette had been looking at the Sandusky Register website, which was providing live updates about witnesses who were subpoenaed and called to testify on Tuesday. 

They told her they would continue to review her concern and would look at Donahue's phone to determine whether and who he may have been texting, Laurie Burdine said.

The agents were with Donahue for about 30 minutes after the jurors left for the day.

Get the play-by-play from Day 5 live updates

The agents would not answer questions from a reporter about what the investigation would look into and whether they had looked at the messages or activity of either or both phones.

Donahue refused to answer questions from a reporter about what he was doing with his phone and if it was normal for a prosecutor to be using a cell phone during grand jury testimony.

Some of the witnesses who were subpoenaed for court Tuesday were left still waiting by the end of the day. Others who did testify Tuesday were J. Jackson with the Sandusky County EMS and several law enforcement officers, including retired Sandusky County Sheriff Capt. Carmelle Riffle.

She and another law enforcement officer were brought in to continue testimony while some jury members and witnesses left for lunch.

It is unclear what any of the testimony would be considering the Burdines aren't aware that any of those individuals were at the jail the night Craig Burdine died.

Craig Burdine, 37, died at the Sandusky County Jail on Aug. 11, 2007.

The Burdine family contends jail guards 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 Hiser, who was in the fire pit with Burdine during the fight on Sycamore Street, waited for hours on Tuesday before testifying. He was on the stand for about 30 minutes.

The grand jury hearing is expected to resume Monday.

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