Short day for grand jury

No witnesses called Friday; DeWine team says see you next month
Melissa Topey
Jun 21, 2014

COMING SUNDAY: Did deleted city records detail $36 million in cost overruns for the Fremont Reservoir? Get the skinny on Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's other ongoing investigation in Sunday's Register.    

topey@sanduskyregister.com

The grand jury hearing the criminal investigation into Craig Burdine's death met Friday, but it was a short day without any witnesses.

Jurors met privately with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's lead prosecutor, Matt Donahue.

It was the ninth day of hearings for the grand jury since it was seated May 6. In the seven weeks since the start, few, if any of the witnesses called to testify appear to have any first-hand knowledge of what occurred Aug. 11, 2007, when Burdine died suddenly inside the Sandusky County jail after a scuffle with Fremont police officers and jail guards. 

None of the guards, officers, supervisors, EMTs or other personnel on duty that night have been subpoenaed by Donahue, and it's not clear whether he intends to call any of them to the witness stand.

But the jury will return next month, DeWine's spokesman, Dan Tierney said.  

“The grand jury is ongoing and has not completed calling witnesses,” Tierney said late Friday.

It appeared the grand jury might have been reviewing video on Friday because the third-floor courtroom where the hearings are taking place appeared to be darkened with lights off as they were meeting. 

The family was provided copies of video surveillance from police cruisers and cameras inside the jail, which shows Craig Burdine to be barely conscious, or already unconscious in every frame. 

Donahue has brought about 40 witnesses in front of the grand jury prior to Friday, many of whom were jail inmates. The inmates who spoke to the Register said they could not see anything after Burdine was dragged from a police cruiser in the garage at the jail inside, but they said they did hear a scuffle and the sound of someone being Tasered. 

Jess Burdine, Craig's father, and Eric Burdine, Craig's brother, both have been called multiple times, and his sister, Laurie Burdine, also testified. All three family expressed disappointment with Donahue. Jess Burdine said Donahue is misleading the grand jury and withholding evidence from jurors, and Laurie Burdine said Donahue took a phone call while she was testifying in response to a juror's question. 

A parade of law enforcement officials who were not at the jail when Craig Burdine died, just minutes after the Taser was repeatedly employed on him, also testified during prior hearing days, including DeWine's investigators.

Neither Lucas County deputy coroner Cynthia Beisser, who performed the autopsy, or Dr. Michael Baden, the renowned forensic pathologist who reviewed the autopsy report and other medical reports and determined Craig Burdine was the victim of a homicide, have been subpoenaed to testify. 

The family contends DeWine's office has purposely called irrelevant witnesses, instead, and is avoiding testimony from Baden, the guards and officers to avoid getting any criminal indictments against anyone. 

Jess Burdine also questioned what video jurors might have viewed, and believe some of it could be video never released to the family previously.

Donahue has refused to answer questions throughout the proceedings, referring even basic inquiries to spokespeople with the Attorney General's office.

Donahue also has provided the family little guidance and has been hostile toward them at times, Eric Burdine said, and DeWine and the AG's office also have failed to keep the family updated on the proceedings or provide them with any information about the investigation or their findings. 

DeWine agreed to conduct a criminal investigation in August after being pressed by Jess Burdine. His investigation, which was started six years after Craig Burdine died, is the only criminal investigation ever conducted.

Sandusky County Sheriff Kyle Overmyer and Fremont police Chief Tim Wiersma both declined to offer any comment or explanation why a criminal investigation was never conducted after Craig Burdine died when the circumstances of his death required one be conducted, including a deadly force review.

DeWine also has refused to comment on the lack of a prior criminal investigation, or why the sheriff and the Fremont police would skip doing that. 

The grand jury is scheduled to return July 1.