Wednesday, March 07, 2001

Murder trial to proceed

Ruling defends 38-year delay

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Michael Wehrung failed again Tuesday to get the murder charges against him thrown out of court.

        But he did win a legal battle that could help him later this year when he goes on trial for the 1963 death of his teen-age girlfriend in Greenhills.

        The court rulings are the latest attempts by a Cincinnati judge to determine how to handle a murder case that dates back almost four decades.

        Mr. Wehrung is accused of beating to death his 15-year-old girlfriend, Patricia Rebholz, as she walked to his house from a teen dance.

        Mr. Wehrung, now 53, was 15 at the time. He was a suspect at the time of Patricia's death but was not charged until last year.

        His attorneys have argued that the case should be tossed out of court because prosecutors waited too long to bring charges. They claim their defense of Mr. Wehrung has been “substantially prejudiced” by the long delay.

        But in a written decision Tuesday, Common Pleas Judge Patrick Dinkelacker refused to toss out the charges, saying the delay was justified because it took 38 years for prosecutors to learn that Mr. Wehrung had a possible motive to kill Patricia.

        Prosecutors have said Patricia intended to break up with Mr. Wehrung the night of her death.

        Although the ruling was a victory for prosecutors, the defense also won a few battles Tuesday.

        Judge Dinkelacker agreed to block prosecutors from showing jurors some of the notes and reports compiled by police during their investigation of Patricia's death in 1963.

        The judge concluded that the old notes — which include some of the detectives' personal observations — are hearsay evidence that should not be allowed at trial.

        The old notes and reports include detectives' comments about witness statements and evidence.

        The judge did, however, allow prosecutors to use any direct statements in the old notes that are attributed directly to Mr. Wehrung. Judge Dinkelacker also ruled that statements Mr. Wehrung made during police interviews would be allowed.

        The defense had argued that those statements should be thrown out because police violated Mr. Wehrung's rights when they questioned the teen-ager.

        The judge ruled that Mr. Wehrung voluntarily spoke to police, and a jury should be allowed to hear his comments.

        A trial date for Mr. Wehrung's case has not been set. The judge is awaiting a decision by the Ohio Supreme Court on whether the case should remain in adult court or be moved to juvenile court.


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