The only other person in the home at the time was her husband of four months, Ryan Widmer.
The coroner ruled it a homicide. Mr. Widmer was charged and convicted of murdering his wife. The trial was taped by Dateline. And yet he has many supporters, among them his family and the Ohio Innocence Project -- which took on the case even though it does not meet their criteria (because there is no exculpatory DNA evidence). With the widespread publicity, an unusual case quickly became a very unusual case.
The conviction was thrown out by a judge concerned with the conduct of jurors who went outside the evidence to create their own theory of the case. (Or at least that was the stated reason. If the judge didn't have his own doubts about the verdict, I doubt he would have issued this ruling.) Now Ryan Widmer is about to be retried.
In the meantime, websites tell the tragic stories of this couple. Remember Sarah Widmer is a heartbreaking tribute to the attractive woman who lost her life in such an inexplicable way. Local station WCPO has put together its voluminous coverage. Mr. Widmer's supporters have created a comprehensive website and organized mass prayers.
Did Ryan Widmer kill his wife? How can the drowning death of a healthy young woman be otherwise explained? But there is no motive to be gleaned from the evidence. Was he wrongfully convicted? Was the coroner's conclusion warranted by the evidence? Did our criminal justice system, as extraordinarily deferential as it is to prosecutors, make a grievous error? Or is a guilty man going to go free?
These are deeply troubling questions. Had I been on the jury, I don't know that I could have voted to convict him, based on what I have read. I can't help but think that jurors in the United States today have completely lost touch with the concept of reasonable doubt.
One thing is for certain, to my mind anyway: widespread publicity in any case is a serious threat to a search for the truth. Is this not apparent to us by now? Be it a case in which the evidence of guilt is overwhelming, yet the defendant walks (O.J. Simpson, Robert Durst), or a case in which the evidence is ridiculously thin but the defendant is convicted anyway (Father Gerald Robinson, and, perhaps, Ryan Widmer), journalists and cameras are more often a problem than anything else.
If I ever had the misfortune to represent an innocent person accused of a crime, and if that case were to be heavily publicized beforehand or broadcast live, I would not stand for it. I'd go on a hunger strike until they removed the camera. If, on the other hand, my client was guilty, I'd welcome the publicity. The cameras are monkey wrenches. They mess with the works.
In the Widmer case, we can only hope that the retrial results in the truth coming out.