Chief Justice O’Connor’s Detailed Appraisal

In a 5:2 decision, the Supreme Court of Ohio has rejected Jeffrey Wogenstahl’s claim that Ohio lacked jurisdiction to try him for murder.* In order to reach their decision, the judges examined the state’s theory of events surrounding the murder of Amber Garrett. Jeff’s claim was that the state hypothesized that Amber was murdered in Indiana; and therefore he should have been tried in Indiana, not in Ohio.

The majority judges disagreed with Jeff. They found that the state’s version of events allowed for the possibility of the murder having occurred in Ohio; they based this conjecture on the layout of roads near the Ohio-Indiana border, which, they said, could have allowed Jeff to double back into Ohio in order to kill the victim there.

In her dissent, Chief Justice O’Connor examined the road layout more carefully, and concluded that such a doubling back was impossible, based on the state’s own premise about what happened.

The majority also suggested that the victim could have been fatally injured in Ohio, before dying in Indiana. If this was what happened, Ohio would have had jurisdiction to try Jeff.

Again, Chief Justice O’Connor made a more thorough evaluation of the state’s position at trial. She established that, given the lack of blood evidence, and the state’s tight timeline of events, the fatal blows could not have been struck in Ohio.

All the judges dismissed the state’s claim that Amber could have been murdered in Jeff’s apartment.

Justice French suggested that the court should consider whether the statute cited by the majority is constitutional. Chief Justice O’Connor noted that this statute is irrelevant if both the injury and the murder happened in Indiana (as is the case in her interpretation of the state’s hypothesis).

Chief Justice O’Connor concluded her dissent:
“[T]he state of Ohio had no jurisdiction to try Wogenstahl for murder. His aggravated-murder conviction is void and should be vacated, and Wogenstahl should be tried in Indiana for the murder.”

Jeff will appeal the Supreme Court’s decision. We trust that Chief Justice O’Connor’s detailed appraisal will be accepted by more judges. Whether in Ohio or Indiana, Jeff deserves a new trial.

*Information for this post is taken from Slip Opinion No. 2017-Ohio-6873, The State of Ohio, Appellee v. Wogenstahl, Appellant. Supreme Court of Ohio, July 25, 2017.
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