A Time of Elevated Torture

Robert Van Hook has been on Ohio’s death row longer than Jeffrey Wogenstahl. The state plans to kill Van Hook on Wednesday, July 18. He has extended family and friends who will mourn his death; they are the unintended victims of Van Hook’s death sentence.

The period leading up to and following Van Hook’s scheduled killing is also a time of elevated psychological torture for all Ohio death row inmates.

According to a certified psychiatrist and clinical psychologist, Van Hook meets the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder and substance abuse disorder, all of which stem from a chaotic and unstable upbringing that included sexual abuse. Together, post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder constitute a major disorder that equates with disease.

The seriousness of Van Hook’s disorders was not made clear at his trial. Indeed, his attorneys had only three and a half months from the time of his arrest until the trial; this was insufficient for the necessary investigation and development of mitigation evidence. Courts have been divided as to whether Van Hook’s death sentence should stand: one judge blamed the Hamilton County trial court as deficient for not exploring all mitigating factors.

Governor Kasich has rejected Van Hook’s appeal for clemency. OTSE (Ohioans to Stop Executions) asks that we request the Governor to stay the scheduled execution* until the reforms made by the Ohio Supreme Court Task Force on the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty are addressed. These reforms would exclude from the death penalty defendants who suffer from serious mental illness. 

We urge you to act on OTSE’s plea.

*The Governor can be phoned at 855-782-6925, or emailed via his website.
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Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, executions, Jeffrey Wogenstahl, mental illness, Ohio, Robert Van Hook, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The State’s Blind Spot*

The State of Ohio has so far failed to acknowledge extensive, significant evidence that was unconstitutionally withheld from Jeffrey Wogenstahl and only recently obtained by him; the State instead chooses to quote the so-called legal “facts” of Jeff’s case that were decided in 1994.

Ohio’s apparent blind spot permeates its attempts to thwart Jeff’s quest for justice. Incredibly, it argues that Jeff should have raised his current claims earlier. The response is obvious:
‘Wogenstahl would have loved to have raised these claims in his prior state court and federal proceedings–the standard of relief to meet would have been lower, relief from an unconstitutional sentence could have been sooner, and Wogenstahl would surely not still be languishing on death row with an execution date looming over his head. The sole reason he did not raise these claims earlier is because the State hid this material.’

Separately, the State attempts to show that Jeff has already raised some of the claims before, and is thus barred from doing so again. But his current claims cannot be the same as any made previously, which lacked the specific evidence that is now available.

Ohio also argues that Jeff should have explained why he delayed in presenting his current claims; again, the answer seems obvious:
‘Once again, the State seems to fail to understand that it was the State that is to blame for this delay… Wogenstahl was indeed “unavoidably prevented” from discovering this material any sooner. Wogenstahl could not anticipate the State of Ohio’s gross violation of his constitutional rights in this death penalty case.’

Finally, the State argues that earlier court decisions cited “overwhelming evidence of guilt”. Jeff’s response is that previously courts were unable to access the critical evidence that has now been forced from the State.

As well as the suppressed evidence, Jeff points to a coroner expert’s affidavit and a report by a crime scene investigation expert, both of which support his claim that he did not murder Amber Garrett.

Jeff’s case is now revealed as “the epitome of a miscarriage of justice”. We trust the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas agrees.

*Information for this post is taken from: State of Ohio, Plaintiff Respondent v. Jeffrey Wogenstahl, Defendant-Petitioner. B 9206287. Reply to State_s Motion to Dismiss Successive Post-Conviction Petition, filed in The Court of Common Pleas, Hamilton County, Ohio. Filed May 2018. (Office of the Ohio Assistant Public Defender). Print.
Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, Hamilton County, Jeffrey Wogenstahl, official misconduct, Ohio, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What the State Suppressed about Jeff’s Cat*

When Jeffrey Wogenstahl became a suspect in the murder of Amber Garrett his apartment was searched, and testing was performed on various blood traces found there: the only confirmed human blood did not match the blood of the victim. Testing failed to determine whether other blood stains were of animal or human origin.

Jeff believed that some blood could have originated from his cat. He testified that in the week before the victim was reported missing his cat jumped from the seat of the toilet in his bathroom towards the top of the shower curtain, hitting its mouth on the side of the tub. As a result it bled from its mouth. Jeff stated that he wiped blood off the side of the tub and the toilet.

In closing argument, the prosecution ridiculed Jeff’s testimony about the cat and the injury to its mouth:

“Have you ever heard of a cat that falls with such force that it knocks itself unconscious and knocks out a tooth? That story is absolutely ridiculous.”

The prosecution later referred to the animal dismissively as “the psychopathic cat”.

However, the jury was unaware that the State had suppressed a report that would have supported Jeff’s testimony and rebutted the stance of the prosecution. The report† showed that the cat did, indeed, have a chipped tooth. It also stated that a blood sample taken from the cat was delivered to Hamilton County Coroner’s Office; but comment on this blood sample was conspicuously absent from both the Coroner’s Office’s Official Crime Laboratory Report,‡ and from the Serological Research Institute’s report.§

The suppression of this report is of great significance. If the jurors had heard evidence that Jeff was telling the truth about his cat’s accident, some might have been more inclined to believe the rest of Jeff’s testimony. And some may have realized that the state itself was dissembling and untrustworthy. The outcome of the trial could thus have been different.

Jeff’s case is littered with similar instances of suppressed information, any one of which could have altered the jury’s verdict. Jeff has not received justice. He deserves a new trial.

 *Information for this post is taken from: State of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellee, vs. Jeffrey Wogenstahl, Defendant-Appellant.  Case No. 2016-0423. Appellant Jeffrey Wogenstahl’s Motion to Remand Case to the Trial Court, filed in the Supreme Court of Ohio, October 7, 2016; pages 45 – 47 and page 70. 
† State of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellee, vs. Jeffrey Wogenstahl, Defendant-Appellant.  Case No. 2016-0423. Volume 2 of Appendix to Appellant Jeffrey Wogenstahl’s Motion to Remand Case to the Trial Court, filed in the Supreme Court of Ohio, October 7, 2016 – Case No. 2016-0423.  Exhibit 73 (pages 80 – 85 of pdf). 
‡State of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellee, vs. Jeffrey Wogenstahl, Defendant-Appellant.  Case No. 2016-0423. Volume 2 of Appendix to Appellant Jeffrey Wogenstahl’s Motion to Remand Case to the Trial Court, filed in the Supreme Court of Ohio, October 7, 2016 – Case No. 2016-0423.  Exhibit 74 (pages 86 – 96 of pdf).
§ State of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellee, vs. Jeffrey Wogenstahl, Defendant-Appellant.  Case No. 2016-0423. Volume 2 of Appendix to Appellant Jeffrey Wogenstahl’s Motion to Remand Case to the Trial Court, filed in the Supreme Court of Ohio, October 7, 2016 – Case No. 2016-0423.  Exhibit 75 (pages 97 – 102 of pdf).
Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, Hamilton County, injustice, Jeffrey Wogenstahl, jurors, miscarriages of justice, official misconduct, Ohio, prosecutorial misconduct, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Flawed Statute

Jeffrey Wogenstahl has filed a new petition in the Ohio Supreme Court, claiming that Ohio relied on a flawed statute to allow itself jurisdiction to try him.*

At fault was the statute’s sub-section known as R.C. §2901.11(D); this addressed situations where it was impossible to decide whether a crime had been committed in Ohio or in a different state. In these situations R.C. §2901.11(D) forced courts to presume that Ohio had jurisdiction to try the accused person for the crime.

Jeff argues that this presumption denied him the “due process of law” which is enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and also violated the Ohio Constitution’s Due Course of Law Clause. He contends that instead of presuming that it had jurisdiction, the State should have been required to prove that it had jurisdiction.

Justice French has noted† that although the Ohio Supreme Court requires the State to prove that the venue (location) for a trial is appropriate, that Court has yet to consider whether the State should also prove that it has jurisdiction for the trial. As Jeff points out:
“Given that jurisdiction is a prerequisite to venue, failing to require that the State also prove jurisdiction as an element of the offense would make little sense.”

Jeff adds that some Ohio intermediate appellate courts have already deliberated about this, and have decided that jurisdiction is an element of a crime which the State should be obliged to prove.

Jeff maintains that, lacking jurisdiction, his conviction and resultant death sentence are void. He asks the Court to vacate his current execution date, reopen his direct appeal, and vacate his conviction and sentence for the aggravated murder of Amber Garrett.

We wish him success.

*See State of Ohio, Plaintiff, v. Jeffrey Wogenstahl, Defendant. 1995-0042. Jeffrey Wogenstahl’s Motion for Order or Relief Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule of Practice 4.01. In the Supreme Court of Ohio. Filed May 02, 2018. Supreme Court of Ohio database of cases, accessed May 14, 2018.
† The State of Ohio, Appellee v. Wogenstahl, Appellant. Slip Opinion No. 2017-Ohio-6873, French, J., concurring (pages 15 – 17). Supreme Court of Ohio. Decided July 25, 2017. Supreme Court of Ohio database of cases, accessed May 14, 2018.
Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, Jeffrey Wogenstahl, Ohio, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hamilton on the Map

Hamilton County, Ohio, is where Jeffrey Wogenstahl was sentenced to death for a murder that he says he did not commit. An interactive map showing all US counties now confirms Sister Helen Prejean’s words:
“Hamilton County kind of stands out.”  

Counties on the interactive map are colored blue if they have produced at least one death sentence between 1991 and 2017 (the darker the blue, the more death sentences). Hamilton County stands out as the darkest blue in Ohio.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, believes the approach of local prosecutors is the single biggest factor in whether someone convicted of murder is assigned the death penalty.

What is less clear is whether prosecutorial misconduct has increased death penalty convictions and sentences in the county. Certainly Hamilton is one of two Ohio counties highlighted in 2006 by Jeff Gamso, former legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio:
“Prosecutorial misconduct — now you’re talking. Hamilton County and Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) lead the pack there. God knows they lead the pack for sheer number of cases of prosecutorial misconduct…”

So we ask again, was the prosecutorial misconduct experienced by Jeff – and by three other death-sentenced individuals – contained in isolated incidents? Or do those cases reveal systemic problems with death penalty administration in Hamilton County? And is that partly why Hamilton County is such a dark shade of blue?

 

 

 

Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, death sentences, Hamilton County, Jeffrey Wogenstahl, Ohio, prosecutorial misconduct, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Not Snatched from her Bed

The prosecutor at Jeffrey Wogenstahl’s trial used his closing argument to impress on the jury that the victim, Amber Garrett, was grabbed from her bed in the middle of the night:
“[W]e know from the evidence that Amber Garrett was in bed early the morning of November 24th, that someone…  removed her without letting her get dressed… Amber’s body was found out in Bright, Indiana still wearing these panties and these clothes that she had worn in the bed on the evening of Saturday, November 23rd.… How about a person who would return to the Garrett household, pick up a half naked Amber Garrett and get her out into his car?” (emphasis added)[i]

As far back as 1996 the Ohio Supreme Court noted:
“[T]he prosecutor’s final closing argument was riddled with improper comments regarding the nature and circumstances of the offense …”
but it allowed Jeff’s conviction to stand.[ii]
 
What no court knew, however, was that the prosecution had suppressed evidence that contradicted its version of events. Under duress, the prosecution finally supplied documents in 2016 showing that when Amber’s body was discovered she was not wearing the night clothes that she dressed in for bed on the Saturday night.[iii] She was, in fact, wearing a red dress that had been given to her[iv] (in 2014 Amber’s friend confirmed that this had been Amber’s dress for church).[v]

The prosecutor also made much of the fact that Amber’s glasses had been left behind; but the state withheld several documents that showed she could manage well without her glasses.

The suppression of these documents is highly significant. If the jurors had learnt that the victim had changed from her night clothes into a dress, and had not been helpless without her glasses, some might have concluded that she was not snatched from her bed in the night. And the outcome of the trial could have been different.

We sincerely hope that Jeff will soon be granted a new trial, where his jurors can see all of the evidence. Justice demands no less.

[i] See State of Ohio v. Jeffrey A. Wogenstahl, 2016-0423, Appellant Jeffrey A. Wogenstahl’s Motion to Remand Case to the Trial Court, filed October 7, 2016. Page 42.
[ii] See The State of Ohio, Appellee, v. Wogenstahl, Appellant, 95-42. Supreme Court of Ohio. Decided  March 6, 1996. Page 9. Web, 26 January, 2015.
[iii] Amber’s mother, Peggy Garrett, told an investigating officer that Amber “had the Loretta Lynn T-shirt on”. See Volume 2 of Appendix to Appellant Jeffrey Wogenstahl’s Motion to Remand Case to the Trial Court, Case No. 2016-0423. Filed in the Supreme Court of Ohio, October 7, 2016. Exhibit 60 (Page 59 of pdf).
Peggy Garrett also told Patrolman Lindsey “that even the nightshirt she slept in was still there [in the house].” See Volume 2 of Appendix to Appellant Jeffrey Wogenstahl’s Motion to Remand Case to the Trial Court, Case No. 2016-0423. Filed in the Supreme Court of Ohio, October 7, 2016. (Exhibit 61, (page 65 of pdf).
[iv] See Volume 2 of Appendix to Appellant Jeffrey Wogenstahl’s Motion to Remand Case to the Trial Court, Case No. 2016-0423. Filed in the Supreme Court of Ohio, October 7, 2016. Exhibits 62 (page 67 of pdf) and 63 (page 68 of pdf).
[v] See Volume 2 of Appendix to Appellant Jeffrey Wogenstahl’s Motion to Remand Case to the Trial Court, Case No. 2016-0423. Filed in the Supreme Court of Ohio, October 7, 2016. Exhibit 43, page 35 of pdf.

 

Posted in capital punishment, criminal justice, death penalty, Jeffrey Wogenstahl, Ohio, prosecutorial misconduct, USA, wrongful convictions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Guilty Person Committing More Crimes

We are very pleased that William T. Montgomery is no longer on Ohio’s death row: his death sentence has been commuted to one of life without the possibility of parole. Like Jeffrey Wogenstahl, Montgomery claims he has been wrongly convicted; away from death row he will continue to pursue a “new and fair” trial.

The ripples from wrongful convictions can extend far beyond those wrongly incarcerated or executed: sometimes “when someone is wrongfully convicted, there is a guilty person on the street committing more crimes”. Frank Baumgartner estimates that of the approximately 40,000 wrongful convictions every year in the USA, perhaps a quarter involves the actual perpetrator remaining at large. Some must be murderers who may kill again.

In Jeff’s case there were several suspects who were not investigated and about whom the prosecution withheld evidence (see here and here and here). A further crime or crimes could conceivably have been prevented if the real murderer of Amber Garrett had been identified, convicted and sentenced.

Baumgartner and his wife, Jennifer Thompson, are campaigning to raise public awareness about this aspect of wrongful convictions. They want people to understand that:
“[P]reventing wrongful convictions is not just a way of stopping individual injustices: it’s a way of fighting crime.”
We wish them success with their campaign. And we hope the public demands that Jeff should have a new trial.

Posted in crime, criminal justice, Jeffrey Wogenstahl, murder, Ohio, USA, wrongful convictions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,