In short, the grand jury selection process in DeWine’s investigation appears to be flawed, potentially nullifying the entire case.
Sandusky County clerk of courts Tracy Overmyer seemingly neglected to follow state law during the lead up to forming the grand jury.
The Ohio Revised Code requires specific documentation of the selection process, which is designed to assure a fair, open and public process.
The clerk’s office, however, cannot show the required steps were taken. Overmyer failed to provide documentation showing:
•The intention to form a grand jury was advertised in a local newspaper.
•Certification by the county’s two-member “jury of commissioners” to the presiding judge and the clerk’s office.
•Certification of the random draw from the annual jury list of the names of prospective jurors.
For a clerk’s office to lawfully form a grand jury, these items are specifically required to be filed and made available to the public.
Overmyer initially said visiting Judge Dale Crawford ordered the documents to be sealed, as part of a secret gag order, but a judge cannot seal public records unrelated to the case he’s presiding over.
Ohio Attorney General spokesman Dan Tierney later confirmed Overmyer had not provided the public records required by the statutes governing jury selection.
DeWine downplayed these concerns when raised on Thursday during a segment of Between the Lines Live, the Register’s public affairs talk program.
“That’s a matter that the court would have to tell us,” DeWine said. “It would not be a matter the attorney general, the state of Ohio nor my staff would determine”
DeWine indicated it was the clerk’s job to assure the grand jury process was properly and lawfully conducted.
“We had nothing to do with summoning the grand jury,” DeWine said. “We had nothing to do with whether there was an intent of a violation of the law. What I can tell you is if there is a bias on the grand jury … then that would be something that would be very troubling”
DeWine said he’s confident any grand jury, no matter who served on it, would have reached a similar conclusion based on evidence his office developed over five months in 2013, when investigating the death of Limberios.
“We can bring 20 grand juries in, and we would have no indication they would have come up with any different result,” DeWine said.
It’s difficult to determine if there were any biases on the grand jury, considering Overmyer wouldn’t provide documents detailing how grand jurors were selected; who selected them; how the summons were delivered to prospective jurors; or what transpired prior to anyone being sworn in as a grand juror.
These safeguards are all designed to ensure a fair and open criminal justice process, said attorney Dan McGookey, who formerly represented the Limberios family in its fight for a competent investigation into Jacob’s shooting death.
“These are fundamental principles of our judicial system,” McGookey said. “If there was no notice of a public meeting, then what good is the requirement under the statute that there be a meeting where the jury is drawn that is open to the public? It effectively eliminates the statute”
In a Dec. 11 memo, DeWine’s assistant prosecutors and investigators were told of at least one potentially biased grand juror before the proceedings concluded in late November.
“[Redacted name of juror] reportedly owns [redacted business], which has [redacted name(s)] associated with the Sandusky County Sheriff’s Office in the past, as well as the [redacted Sandusky County-based office] of some members of the department” according to the memo the Register obtained through a public records request. “She fears [redacted name or juror] would have been nervous about losing the business of the sheriff’s office should the grand jury rule against them”
DeWine said on Thursday his office was still reviewing the issues surrounding the apparent violations of state law, but he made no assurances on the possible outcome of the review.
“I’m not aware of any cases, assuming you are telling me the truth, and I have no reason not to believe it,” DeWine said. “That would be something we can certainly continue to do research”
DeWine said it was not his job to determine if the laws governing a grand jury selection process were violated in this case.
DeWine was appointed to investigate the circumstances surrounding Jacob’s death in mid-2013, after Judge Crawford removed local officials from the investigation, citing potential conflicts in the way it was being conducted.
DeWine’s investigation determined local officials allowed important evidence to be destroyed and they reached a wrong conclusion on how Limberios was killed.
He said Limberios’ death certificate should be changed from suicide to accidental, but Sandusky County coroner John Wukie refused. Wukie also refused to order an autopsy.
When the Limberios investigation by the AG finished Nov. 20, DeWine said all public records related to it would be released.
The actions of Sandusky County officials — including Sheriff Kyle Overmyer, Wukie, Wukie’s attorney Dean Henry and others — were being reviewed by DeWine during his investigation.
Clerk of courts Tracy Overmyer is Sheriff Overmyer’s sister, and she is married to Sandusky County Sheriff’s Capt. Michael Meggitt. The potential conflicts of interest were not addressed by DeWine prior to the selection process or after.
Note — This post has been modified to reflect the following correction published in the print edition on March 18, 2014: Ohio Attorney General spokesman Dan Tierney told the Register last week that Sandusky County clerk of courts Tracy Overmyer had not provided public records related to the Limberios grand jury selection process required by the Ohio Revised Code. Tierney did not say Overmyer could not provide the documents. A story on Friday misstated what Tierney told the Register. On Monday, Tierney said Overmyer was still reviewing the public records request from the Register.