The Ohio Supreme Court has again rejected Jeffrey Wogenstahl’s claim that Ohio did not have jurisdiction to try him. The court’s decision,[i] announced last month, is mystifying. The state did not file a rebuttal of the points made by Jeff when he asked the court to reconsider; nor did the court explain its unwillingness to do so. And yet no less a person than the court’s Chief Justice earlier wrote persuasively of Jeff’s claim:
“[F]ailing to ensure that this state has jurisdiction in such a case is a tremendous error and is a disservice to the citizens of Ohio and the victims of violent crime.”[ii]
In Jeff’s request for reconsideration he explains the State’s obligations at trial:
‘[T]he State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt… that either the injuries causing the death or the death itself occurred in Ohio[, o]r… that “the evidence is insufficient to say with confidence in which state the murder occurred ”.’[iii]
The State fulfilled neither of these obligations when Jeff was tried. In reviewing his case last year, the majority judges attempted to demonstrate that the second point had been fulfilled at the time of the trial; but they offered no record evidence to support their speculation that the prosecution’s position allowed for Jeff turning back into Ohio via one of two side roads from the main Ohio-Indiana road.[iv] In any event, as Chief Justice O’Connor explained in her July 2017 dissent, the road layout and the timeline presented by the state at trial made it virtually impossible for the majority’s hypothetical scenario to have occurred.[v]
The majority similarly engaged in improper speculation, unsupported by evidence, in concluding that the fatal injuries could have been inflicted while the victim was still in Ohio. Moreover, the timeline established by the prosecution at trial, as well as the forensic evidence in Jeff’s apartment and car, suggest that this theory, too, is simply wrong.[vi]
Last month’s court decision matters to Jeff because the rules of the US death penalty system and the “materiality” rule make it extremely difficult for him to be granted a new trial on the basis of his innocence.
The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision will now be appealed in a federal court. We trust that the judges there will recognize and repair the injustice created by Ohio.
We wish Jeff a happy and peaceful 2018.