Justice Joseph T. Deters

Today, March 17, 2023, we remember the disastrous day, 30 years ago, when Jeffrey Wogenstahl entered death row. On March 17, 1993, Jeff received his sentence of death; his removal to death row followed.

Throughout his long incarceration in prisons at Lucasville, Mansfield and Chillicothe, Jeff has consistently and clearly maintained his innocence. When first locked into a death row cell he was a young man; he is now 62. The Ohio criminal justice system has seized and secured three decades of his life.

While Jeff continues to sit on death row, the lead prosecutor from his case now sits at sessions of the Supreme Court of Ohio. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters was selected as judge by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine in a controversial move at the end of last year, taking up his post in January. The contrast in fortune between Jeff and his prosecutor is stark and disturbing.

A federal judge, Justice Karen Moore, has outlined[1] the extent of the misconduct that Justice Deters presided over while prosecuting Jeff’s case:
“I write separately to emphasize the breadth and depth of prosecutorial misconduct that occurred in this case…
The prosecution withheld Brady evidence,
seemingly suborned perjury,
improperly vouched for the credibility of state witnesses, Wheeler and Deedrick, improperly denigrated defense counsel,
improperly inflamed the jury with speculative commentary about the victim,
improperly confronted and commented personally on [Jeff],
and improperly observed that the defense had failed to call witnesses.
Moreover,… the prosecutor’s penalty-phase closing argument was riddled with improper comments regarding the nature and circumstances of the offense…

The prosecutorial misconduct here was plain and plentiful.”

Police testimony confirms[2] that Prosecutor Deters was given potentially exculpatory information during a Saturday phone call to his home, and responded with something like “Oh shit!” Yet Deters and his team claimed to have no memory of this.

Prosecutor Deters’ office fiercely opposed[3] requests for Jeff to view police records from his case. Only a legal decision overruled Deters and secured for Jeff the vast amounts of potentially exculpatory evidence contained within the suppressed records. A federal court has confirmed[4] the significance of this evidence, allowing Jeff to pursue his claim of innocence.

Despite his wide-ranging misconduct and evidence suppression in a death penalty case, Prosecutor Deters has now become Justice Joseph T. Deters. While Justice Deters is free to travel freely, meet friends and family, and choose from a vast range of leisure activities, Jeff sits and stares at the same four walls that he sees every day, facing the start of a fourth decade on death row.  

How can this be right?

[1] State v. Wogenstahl. 07-4285. United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. February 2012. Pages 48-49 (Moore, J., concurring). uscourts. 

[2] State v. Wogenstahl. B-926287. Defendant Wogenstahl’s Motion for leave to file a Motion for New Trial, based on newly discovered evidence from the U.S. Department of Justice, filed in the Court of Common Pleas, Hamilton County, Criminal Division. Filed January 28, 2014. Pages 10 – 11. 

[3] State of Ohio ex. rel. Office of the Ohio Public Defender v. Harrison Police Department and Charles Lindsey, 2016-0410, Complaint for Writ of Mandamus, filed March 18, 2016. Exhibit 10 (page 41 of pdf).

[4] In Re: Jeffrey Wogenstahl, 18-3287. United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. September 4, 2018. Order. See especially page 8.

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