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False testimony might lead to retrial in murder case

Woman has spent 20 years in prison

BY JESSIE BALMERT " Advocate Reporter " April 28, 2010


NEWARK. Ohio -- After 20 years in prison, a woman convicted of murder might receive a new trial because a former Franklin County toxicologist lied about when he received his degree.

Retired chief toxicologist James Ferguson, 63, of Johnstown, admitted he testified under oath that he received his biochemistry degree in 1972 when he actually received it in 1988, according to court records.

Ferguson testified in two murder cases in Licking County, and both women were convicted. Virginia LeFever, who has served 20 years of her life sentence, might get a new trial because of the error, Licking County Prosecutor Ken Oswalt said.

Former Licking County Prosecutor Robert Becker accused LeFever of poisoning her husband by exposing him to a gas used to kill underground pests, then beating him when it appeared the toxins were not having the desired effect.

Only when she realized he was going to survive did she seek medical help, but it was too late, the state argued. The defense argued it was suicide motivated by the couple's impending divorce and his unstable emotional state.

Defense attorney Kort Gatterdam filed a motion for a new trial in March 2009, alleging Ferguson lied about his qualifications and Bill LeFever made suicidal comments to two women before his death.

Ferguson did not receive his degree until about six months before investigating the LeFever death, as opposed to the 16 years of experience he purported.

"It's a horribly unfortunate situation," Oswalt said.

Before Licking County had its own pathologists, attorneys relied on Franklin County resources, he said.

*The other case, in which Denni Frase was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, likely wouldn't be retried because there was no dispute about how Patrick Dolan died, only whether it was intentional, Oswalt said.

Frase, a former nurse, poisoned her boyfriend Dolan with oral morphine. She was found guilty in March 1995 after a five-day trial, according to court records.

Ferguson was charged with two counts of falsification, a first-degree misdemeanor, for misrepresenting his experience in a civil deposition in August 2008.

He pleaded no contest and was found guilty April 15. Ferguson is set to be sentenced May 13 by Licking County Municipal Court Judge Michael Higgins, according to court records.

*  Editorial note:  Mr. Oswalt's assessment is self-serving and inaccurate.  See Denni Frase's profile at Innocent Inmates of Ohio.   We have it on good authority that
this is just the tip of the iceberg. This guy made up things as he went along to convict people. His resume is filled with exaggerations, and he refused to accept new scientific findings that challenged his conclusions in this poor woman's case. 


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