Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine can't understand why Sandusky County coroner John Wukie refuses to change the death certificate of Jacob Limberios, who DeWine says died accidentally from a self-inflicted gunshot.
"I'm surprised by that," DeWine said Wednesday, describing Wukie's suicide ruling as not making sense. "It can't be an accident, and a suicide."
Meanwhile, Wukie continues a coroner's inquest into Jacob's death on March 2, 2012, but refuses to discuss what he is investigating or what goal there might be for keeping the investigation open.
Wukie's attorney, Dean Henry, refused to provide information about the probe, which Wukie re-launched in November immediately after DeWine finished his nearly five-month investigation and announced the results, determining the Limberios death was an accident.
"I don’t try my cases in the press, and this one is no exception," Henry stated in an email to the Register on Tuesday, in response to questions about the current investigation.
Wukie does not return phone calls from the Register or respond to inquiries. He has deferred questions to Henry, a private attorney hired by the county to defend Wukie in a now-dismissed lawsuit the Limberios family brought seeking to correct the death certificate filed by Wukie.
Henry was later appointed to serve as special criminal prosecutor in the probe, but a visiting judge presiding over the lawsuit removed him from the criminal investigation in May, citing the obvious conflicts in having Henry serve as both criminal prosecutor and defense counsel for the county.
It's unclear what, if any role, remains for Henry.
He refused to provide documents confirming his continued authority to act as criminal prosecutor. He also refused to answer questions about the continuing investigation, suggesting he's replied to all questions from other news media, but he won't respond to the Register's inquiries because he does not like the Register's news coverage.
"I am declining to share information with you because, in my opinion, you are using the Limberios family and their grief to sell newspapers and generate advertising revenue, and you’re doing that while engaging in very questionable journalism," Henry said.
Henry's position would appear to possibly be in violation of the Ohio Revised Code, which does not exempt public records from being released on the basis of a public official's personal opinion.
Henry ratcheted up his hostility toward the Register earlier this month when he was asked about an ethics complaint concerning him, allegedly filed by the Ohio Attorney General. The complaint is referenced in the AG's report. He called the reference "bullshit," but has otherwise refused to comment on the nature of it or how any complaint might have been resolved.
It's unknown if any other news media outlets have asked him about the ethics complaint, or whether he's answered any questions about it.
The Register intends to pursue the question with the Ohio Supreme Court's disciplinary counsel, which handles ethics complaints against attorneys. Documents associated with complaints are often kept secret and exempted from the public record, however, and the AG's office has declined comment on the complaint referenced in the report.
The Limberios family has been fighting nearly two years to get Jacob's death certificate changed and has brought forward evidence — confirmed by DeWine — that Sandusky County officials botched the initial investigation, allowing critical forensic evidence to be destroyed and refusing to order an autopsy after Jacob died.
Jacob's parents, Mike and Shannon Limberios, have not complained about the Register's news coverage. They have, however, been critical of Sandusky County officials, including Henry. The family dropped the lawsuit to have the death certificate changed earlier this month, after Henry filed court documents opposing a change on procedural grounds.
Jacob's parents mortgaged their Castalia home to pay previous costs associated with a private autopsy, private investigation, legal services and court-related expenses.
Wukie wanted now-retired Sandusky County Detective Jim Consolo to be the lead investigator in September 2012 when he launched the original coroner's inquest in response the the family's lawsuit. After agreeing to let Consolo conduct a thorough probe "turning over every stone," Wukie backpedaled almost immediately, according to documents from the AG's report.
In a subsequent phone call to Consolo, Wukie asked the detective to assure him the coroner's inquest would not be critical of Sandusky County Sheriff Kyle Overmyer, or how Overmyer and his deputies handled the initial investigation.
Consolo removed himself from further involvement just days later, after a brief and strange conversation with Overmyer's chief deputy, Bruce Hirt, about his work with Wukie on the coroner's inquest, according to the documents.
Overmyer's hand-picked replacement for Consolo was sheriff's detective Sean O'Connell. It's not clear if O'Connell assured Overmyer he'd conduct the investigation without being critical of Overmyer or the initial investigation. In a conversation he recorded, however, O'Connell did say he was assigned to the case because Consolo wasn't "a team player."
Wukie defended the nonsensical wording he used on the death certificate after DeWine announced his findings in November. In mid-March 2012, Wukie wrote on the death certificate: "Suicide. Gunshot wound to head. Deceased shot self in head, may not have realized the gun was loaded."
He has said he wrote it that way out of compassion for Jacob's mother, to give her "some question" about whether Jacob intended to commit suicide. And yet, he did not return repeated telephone calls from Shannon Limberios after she received the death certificate from him in the mail just weeks after burying Jacob the first time.
Shannon inquired about the strange ruling, which shocked her, she said, but Wukie refused to return her calls. The family felt forced to get their own autopsy and to file the lawsuit, she said, when Wukie and other Sandusky County officials would not see them or respond to their inquiries.
An autopsy wasn't needed, according to Wukie, who said it's not necessary to know whether a person intended to kill himself in order to rule a death a suicide. Wukie told the AG's investigator in October 2013 it might be true, that in other regions in Ohio intention is necessary for a suicide ruling, but it's not necessary in Sandusky County.
Former New York medical examiner Dr. Michael Baden, a renowned forensic pathologist who reviewed autopsy results and the remaining forensic evidence that wasn't destroyed, also recently urged Wukie to correct the death certificate.
"Jacob Limberios died as a result of an accidental gun discharge," Baden said. "The manner of death on his death certificate should be changed to reflect this."
Coroners are the only public officials in Ohio who can change or correct a death certificate. Wukie's suicide ruling will likely result in Jacob's 5-year-old daughter being denied a small life insurance benefit.
Sandusky County prosecutor Tom Stierwalt did not respond to a public records request seeking documents confirming Dean Henry's appointment and his continuing authority to act as special prosecutor. He also declined to provide any details about the ongoing coroner's inquest, its scope or the goal of an investigation.
Sandusky County officials also have refused to release public documents related to the cost associated with the 23 months spent investigating Jacob's death.
They suggested previously an autopsy was not ordered initially after Jacob died because of the expense.