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Family slams DeWine

Melissa Topey • Jun 10, 2014 at 7:40 PM



Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's lead prosecutor on Monday brought a parade of witnesses in front of a grand jury hearing evidence in the 2007 jailhouse death of Craig Burdine. 

But prosecutor Matt Donahue didn't call any of the officers or the jail guards who fought with Burdine before he died inside the jail on Aug. 11, 2007.

Donahue isn't presenting a valid case to the grand jury, according to the Burdine family, and he's shielding them from evidence and misleading the jurors.

“I think he is pandering to the jury with false information to give them doubt,” said Eric Burdine, Craig's brother, who testified last month and again Monday, the only day this week the grand jury will meet in the Burdine case. 

Watch interview with Jess Burdine

Donahue has presented information to the grand jury just seven days in the last five weeks, and he's skipped calling key witnesses and other eyewitnesses to what occurred the night Craig Burdine died. 

He also hasn't called Lucas County deputy coroner Cynthia Beisser, who conducted an autopsy, or Dr. Michael Baden, the famed New York forensic pathologist who determined the death to have been a homicide.

Beisser's report concluded Burdine's death was self-inflicted, caused by alcohol and drug intoxification, and a condition known as excited delirium. The ruling suggests a use of deadly force investigation would have been required, but the sheriff's office and Fremont police didn't conduct any criminal investigation after he died.

Police Chief Tim Wiersma and Sheriff Kyle Overmyer never provided an explanation why there was no criminal investigation. 

DeWine agreed in August to conduct one after being pressed by the Burdines.

Wiersma and Overmyer also have declined to offer an explanation or comment about why information in the written statements from officers and guards about Burdine being combative doesn't reflect what the available surveillance video from police cruisers and jail cameras show.

DeWine also has refused any comment, and the Burdines have come to believe he's covering up what occurred to protect local officials from civil litigation or potential criminal charges.  

Donahue focused more than three days of the grand jury hearings on the Burdine family, calling Eric, his sister Laurie Burdine and their father Jess Burdine, 80, to testify, none of whom were at the jail when Craig Burdine was killed. 

Donahue has been openly hostile to them, they said. He's also misrepresented information and ignored Laurie Burdine when she testified, taking a phone call at one point when she was answering a juror's question. 

Most all of the other people called to testify have no first-hand knowledge of what occurred and Donahue is intentionally attempting to sway the grand jury from returning criminal indictments, Eric Burdine said.

He's having people testify who don't know anything about what occurred to avoid having the people who were there, or who reviewed the scientific evidence that exists from the autopsy and medical reports, testify. 

The county grand jury also is hearing other criminal cases, Eric Burdine said, and testimony about his brother's death has been sporadic over six weeks to the point where no one could keep it straight.

“If it was straight through with all these frivolous witnesses eliminated we could have been done in 7 to 10 days,” he said.

There were 11 witnesses called Monday; some testified for as little as five minutes. 

Read live coverage posts from Day 7

An unknown silver-haired man in a suit testified about an hour. He carried a thin file folder with him into the courtroom, which is closed to the public.

Donahue and the AG's office refused to say whether the man was the expert they told the Burdines they preferred to use over Baden and Beisser. Jess Burdine said one of DeWine's investigators told him they had a pathologist who was “better than Baden.”

Others called to testify Monday were:

• Robert Collins— It was Collins' home where Craig Burdine was injured in a fight. Collins said he testified to the altercation and to what he saw as police tried to arrest Craig Burdine. In surveillance video from a police cruiser still at the home after Craig Burdine was arrested and taken to the jail, an officer can be heard calling out to people still in the area asking whether they saw Burdine kick at an officer. The video does not show the alleged kick or show anyone come forward with information about what they might have seen. 

• Joesph Alejandro — Alejandro lived on Sycamore Street, across from the home where the altercation occurred. Alejandro said he testified he and his daughter were asleep when they woke to find his car was dented and had blood on it.

• Juan Levario — His home, next door to where the altercation happened, was the home Craig Burdine is said to have rammed his head into that night.

It's not clear what the information the witnesses provided about the altercation might have to do with what occurred inside the jail before Craig Burdine stopped breathing. 

Tina Tack-Anderson, a dispatcher at the jail, also testified but she declined to discuss her testimony when asked by a reporter.

When they arrived on the scene the night he died, Fremont police officers initially called for an ambulance but canceled it after recognizing Burdine when he allegedly kicked at an officer.

See autopsy photos and photos of alleged injuries officers sustained

The guards and officers all wrote statements after Burdine died that described him as combative, but all the available surveillance video from the police cruisers and the jail show Burdine was just semi-conscious, or already unconscious from the time police first encountered him. Officers pepper sprayed Burdine before he was handcuffed and arrested.  

He was still handcuffs and shackled when they dragged him from the police cruiser into the jail, where he was Tasered repeatedly by an officer.

One guard also stated he thought he'd broken Burdine's arm after hearing a loud crack during the scuffle with him.

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