Thursday, July 19, 2001

Wehrung to be tried as an adult

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Michael Wehrung will be tried as an adult.

        In a 5-2 opinion Wednesday, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected the 53-year-old man's bid to be tried as a juvenile in the beating death of his girlfriend in 1963.

        His attorneys declined to comment on Wednesday's decision.

        Mr. Wehrung is accused of beating Patricia Ann Rebholz to death with a fence post when they were both 15. Her body was found in a vacant lot in Greenhills.

        Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said his office is ready for trial and will seek to set a trial date at the court's earliest convenience.

        “It has been our position all along that the law is very clear ... It would be ludicrous to try the case in juvenile court,” Mr. Allen said.

        Mr. Wehrung was considered a suspect at the time of the crime but was not charged until last year. He has pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge.

        In May, attorneys for the Springfield Township man went before the Supreme Court to fight a decision by Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Patrick Dinkelacker that the case should remain in adult court.

        If convicted as an adult, Mr. Wehrung could be sentenced to life in prison. He would face little or no punishment in juvenile court.

        Wednesday's ruling is the second time Mr. Wehrung's request has been rejected.

        In October, the Ohio 1st District Court of Appeals rejected his argument that the penalty in adult court is far more severe than any Mr. Wehrung would have received as a juvenile in 1963.

        Appellate judges ruled that a 1997 change in state law, permitting adult charges in juvenile cases where the suspect was “arrested or apprehended ” after age 18, gives the adult court the right to hear the case.

        Nevertheless, two Supreme Court justices who cast dissenting votes in Wednesday's decision fear any conviction the state wins might later be overturned on appeal.

        Justices Paul E. Pfeifer and Alice Robie Resnick say the high court ruling does not determine the validity of the law. The ruling simply says the common pleas court does not clearly lack jurisdiction to try Mr. Wehrung.

        “There's tons of black-letter law out there that says you can't apply laws retroactively,” Justice Pfeifer said.

        Enquirer reporter Spencer Hunt contributed.


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