Thursday, September 14, 2000

Lawyers for suspect, 52, argue he's still a juvenile in 1963 slaying

Appeals court judges must decide venue for Wehrung trial

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Michael Wehrung sat in the back of the courtroom Wednesday while his attorney described him as “a teen-ager,” “a juvenile” and “a child.”

        After a few minutes, one of the three appeals court judges leaned forward with a question:

        “Isn't this child 52 years old?”

Michael Wehrung
Michael Wehrung
        The answer is yes, but Mr. Wehrung's case is so complicated that his age today may not be as important as his age 37 years ago.

        The Cincinnati man is accused of beating to death his girlfriend, Patricia Rebholz, in Greenhills in 1963. He was 15 at the time, and 37 years elapsed before he was charged.

        He was in the Ohio 1st District Court of Appeals on Wednesday to argue that his murder case belongs in juvenile court, where he would face little or no punishment if convicted.

        His attorney, Earle Maiman, asked the three appellate judges to move the case from common pleas court to juvenile court.

        Mr. Maiman argued that, in the eyes of the law, his client still is the 15-year-old juvenile he was when Patricia was killed in 1963.

        As an adult, he said, Mr. Wehrung would face far more serious penalties than if he had been charged 37 years ago. He said that is unfair and unconstitutional.

        “The person doesn't stop being a child just because it takes prosecutors a long time to get their case together,” Mr. Maiman said. “The juvenile is still a juvenile.”

        Prosecutor Mike Allen said Mr. Wehrung is not a juvenile and should not be treated like one. He said a 1996 law allows him to charge Mr. Wehrung as an adult even though he was a teen at the time of the offense.

        The law allows adult charges if a suspect is “not apprehended or taken into custody” until adulthood.

        “We had no other choice but to commence this action in adult court,” Mr. Allen said.

        But Mr. Maiman said prosecutors are using the law retroactively — in violation of the U.S. Constitution — so they can pursue a possible life sentence against Mr. Wehrung in adult court.

        “They're trying to apply a 1996 statute to a 1963 case,” Mr. Maiman said. “It's not (Mr. Wehrung's) fault he wasn't charged in 1963.”

        In juvenile court, he said, Mr. Wehrung would face a hearing to determine whether he should be sent to adult court.

        If he remains in juvenile court, he would face no jail time because the court can impose penalties only until juveniles turn 21.

        The appeals court judges are expected to decide the issue within the next few weeks.


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