Law requires grand jury privacy

No judge just jurors with Ohio Attorney General prosecutors asking the questions
Jessica Cuffman
Nov 11, 2013

 

Special prosecutors have solicited testimony from dozens of witnesses over four days during a grand jury probe into the death of Jacob Limberios.

But what does that mean?

In Ohio, prosecutors use the secret sessions to present evidence to a pool of 15 jurors to decide whether there is cause to indict someone on a felony charge.

Usually, grand jurors serve for a set number of months and hear several sessions of cases in a common pleas courts, handing down monthly indictments.

But the jury called to hear evidence in the Limberios case is a special jury, summoned just to hear the anticipated three weeks of testimony prosecutors from the Ohio Attorney General’s office have unrooted since taking over the criminal probe into the case.

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Sixty Sandusky County residents were served summons for the jury. Eleven were excused before they were set to report to the court Tuesday.

Ohio Attorney General prosecutors Marianne Hemmeter and Matthew Donahue would have whittled down the pool to 15, with five alternates.

Then, they started calling witnesses, cross-examining everyone from Sandusky County Sheriff Kyle Overmyer, who visited the scene of the March 2, 2012 shooting at a York Township home — to Brady Gasser, one of the last people to talk to 19-year-old Jacob Limberios before he was killed.

During grand jury proceedings, there is no judge — prosecutors run the show, probing witnesses for information in front of the jurors, according to Ohio Revised Code.

But after prosecutors make their case, they must leave the jurors to their discussion and decisions on whether there is cause to indict a defendant on criminal charges.

Prosecutors have said this grand jury session is meant to determine the cause and manner of Limberios death, which original investigators called an accidental suicide.

But his family, friends, and experts have said the shooting must have been a homicide — accidental perhaps, but a homicide.

Whatever grand jurors say during their discussions, how each one of them votes, is meant to remain a secret forever — they’re sworn to do so before the first witness is ever called into the courtroom.

The rules are slightly different for witnesses, however.

“If a grand jury witness wants to emerge from the courtroom and have a press conference about what they said, they can do that,” Cleveland attorney David Marburger said, an expert in First Amendment and public records law, and the author of the book “Access with Attitude.”

Witnesses are prohibited from saying what questions prosecutors asked them or what facts jurors showed interest in, he said.

In the end, the only public documents to come from a grand jury session are the criminal indictments that launch a case.

To file an indictment against someone, only 12 of 15 jurors have to agree there’s cause to do so.