Wednesday, December 05, 2001

Wehrung defense wraps up

Witness casts doubt on breakup theory

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Three weeks before Patty Rebholz was killed in 1963, Tom Stonefield asked her to break off her relationship with Michael Wehrung and date him instead.

        But the Greenhills cheerleader refused, Mr. Stonefield testified Tuesday in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. She told him that Mr. Wehrung had given her a ring when they started dating to solidify their relationship, and he didn't want her to give it back.

        That was the last time Mr. Stonefield spoke with Patty, he said.

        He went to a neighborhood dance Aug. 8, 1963, looking for her, but did not see the 15-year-old.

        The next morning, Patty's brutally beaten body was found in a vacant Greenhills lot near Mr. Wehrung's childhood home. Witnesses say she had attended the neighborhood dance at the Greenhills American Legion Hall that night — against Mr. Wehrung's wishes.

        Mr. Stonefield, who now lives in Lawrenceville, was one of three defense witnesses to testify Tuesday in Mr. Wehrung's murder trial, a notorious 38-year-old case. If convicted, Mr. Wehrung could face life in prison.

        The defense rested its case Tuesday. Mr. Wehrung did not take the stand.

        Closing arguments begin this morning, and jurors could begin deliberations this afternoon.

        Prosecutors say Mr. Wehrung, now a Springfield Township roofing executive, had a motive to kill Patty that night because, as her friends have testified during the seven-day trial, she had intended to break up with him to date Mr. Stonefield.

        Last week, prosecution witnesses testified that Patty told Mr. Wehrung she had kissed 16-year-old Mr. Stonefield at an earlier dance.

        Tuesday's defense testimony was aimed at contradicting the breakup theory.

        Defense witness Bonnie Davis Armstrong told jurors Tuesday that she, too, had been at the Aug. 8 dance. Mrs. Armstrong, who was 15 at the time, testified that she left the dance about 9:30 p.m. because she wasn't feeling well.

        She walked to her Hamlin Drive home along the same route, prosecutors say, that Patty took when she left the dance heading for Mr. Wehrung's house.

        Mrs. Armstrong said someone followed her that night. She said she began to walk faster and the person behind her increased his pace. Eventually, she told jurors, she felt she was being chased.

        At the intersection of Ingram and Jennings roads, she felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned and saw it was a boy named Robert Goodballett. Mrs. Armstrong said she ran from him the rest of the way home.

        He didn't follow.

        On Aug. 9, when Mrs. Armstrong learned that Patty had been killed and her body found near Jennings and Ingram, she told her mother about Mr. Goodballett.

        Her mother told police, but they never pursued the matter, Mrs. Armstrong said.

        Mr. Goodballett, who was 16 at the time, also testified Tuesday. Now a 54-year-old California resident, he said he had changed his name years ago to Robin Conrad, because people made fun of his real name.

        He said that he didn't recall the incident with Mrs. Armstrong, but he had stopped at the dance for a short time.

        Mr. Conrad said he does like to sneak up on people — even today — because he thinks “it's fun.” But, he said, he never snuck up on Patty.

        Mr. Conrad said he knew Patty from being in band together at school.

        He said he walked home that night and passed the spot where her body was later found.

        “I kept saying (later), "My God, I must have walked right by her.' That's stayed with me all these years, and if I had known to look I would have seen her,” he said.

        Mr. Conrad said he has never been questioned by police about Patty's murder.


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