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Closed door, no witnesses

Melissa Topey • Jul 13, 2014 at 3:26 AM


There were no witnesses called on Friday for the grand jury reviewing the 2007 jailhouse death of Craig Burdine. 

The jury met in a closed courtroom at the Sandusky County Courthouse with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's lead prosecutor, Matt Donahue, and agents from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, an arm of the AG's office. 

DeWine, Donahue and DeWine's spokesman all refused comment on whether the grand jury proceedings were being wrapped up. They also would not disclose whether jury members had begun deliberating.

Donahue has called in about 45 witnesses during the first 11 days of the hearings, including Sandusky County Sheriff Kyle Overmyer, chief deputy Bruce Hirt, retired law enforcement, a dispatcher and Sandusky County Emergency Medical personnel, the Fremont Memorial Hospital emergency room doctor who was on duty when Burdine was brought there, jail inmates, and forensic pathologists Dr. Kent Harshbarger and Dr. Michael Baden.

Donahue has called few, if any, of the Fremont police officers, jail guards, supervisors or EMT's who were at the jail on Aug. 11, 2007, when Craig Burdine died, to testify. It's not clear why Donahue has focused the grand jury on witnesses with no first-hand knowledge of what occurred leading up to Burdine's death. 

Burdine's family has said they fear DeWine is whitewashing the evidence and is not seeking  criminal indictments. DeWine and Donahue have refused to declare their intentions. 

Watch interview with Jess Burdine

The Register talked by phone on Friday to Montgomery County Coroner Dr. Kent Harshbarger,  who testified  Wednesday. Harshbarger is also chairman of the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab and the chief forensic officer of the Ohio State Coroners Association, according to their websites.

Harshbarger would not disclose what he testified to or what his conclusion was regarding how Burdine died, citing the ongoing grand jury, but said he would talk with the Register once the investigation and jury hearings are concluded.

Dr. Harshbarger said he spent about 20 hours reviewing medical reports from Dr. Cynthia Beisser, the deputy Lucas County coroner who conducted the autopsy, as well as a report from Dr. Baden, who previously reviewed the same evidence and documents.

Harshbarger said he also looked over autopsy photos and reviewed depositions given by law enforcement, Beisser and Baden, but he did not talk with any witnesses before reaching the conclusions he shared with the grand jury.

Harshbarger was aware of statements made by jail inmates who witnessed, or heard, the interaction between law enforcement and Burdine.

He also read reports by law enforcement officers and watched jail video of Burdine being taken in and out of the jail. He was not given any video from inside the jail to review, he said.

The grand jury will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday. 

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