Woman convicted of killing husband released from prison
Toxicologist who testified against her lied about his credentials
Monday, November 22, 2010 02:43 PM
Updated: Monday, November 22, 2010 08:11 PM
BY JOSH JARMAN
The Columbus Dispatch
A woman who spent more than 20 years in prison for a murder she says she didn't commit was released today, after her conviction was overturned because a key prosecution witness admitted lying.
Virginia LeFever, 59, was sentenced to life in prison in 1990 on an aggravated murder charge, accused of killing her husband with poison.
She has long maintained that William LeFever's 1988 death was a suicide by drug overdose, brought on by the couple's impending divorce.
William LeFever was found suffering from an acute drug reaction in the couple's Newark home and died the next day at Licking Memorial Hospital.
The witness, James L. Ferguson, 64, a longtime Franklin County toxicologist, was sentenced to 30 days in jail for falsification earlier this summer. He had served as an expert witness during hundreds of trials while serving with the Franklin County coroner's office.
Ferguson testified during LeFever's trial in Licking County Common Pleas Court that he had received his biochemistry degree from Ohio State University in 1972. He actually received his degree in 1988, about six months before William LeFever's death, university records show.
Ferguson lied again two years ago in his deposition for a civil trial stemming from the murder case. The falsification sentencing was for that misstatement.
Kort Gatterdam, Mrs. LeFever's attorney, said Ferguson's testimony was pivotal to his client's conviction. Visiting Judge Mark Wiest agreed today, granting LeFever's request for a new trial in a court filing, which reads in part: "This is not about guilt or innocence. This is about fairness."
Wiest, who convicted LeFever in a bench trial, said in the entry that he was convinced of LeFever's guilt then and wasn't sure he felt any differently now. But, he said, the state's case rested largely on the testimony of Ferguson, who has been discredited by his falsification.
Wiest ordered LeFever to be released from prison. She will have to file a personal recognizance bond in Licking County court within 48 hours.
Though the murder charge against LeFever remains, Licking County Prosecutor Ken Oswalt said he's still evaluating whether to drop the charge or try her again. He said he's waiting to hear from the Franklin County coroner's office whether any case evidence remains that still could be tested.
And he said he'll have to weigh the cost of a new trial against the likelihood that LeFever could be paroled from prison in as little as a year if she's convicted again. Oswalt worked on the original case as an assistant prosecutor, and said he still believes LeFever is guilty of her husband's murder.
Gatterdam said that LeFever is overjoyed and grateful. He declined a reporter's request to speak to her until she could get a good night's sleep outside of prison.
Gatterdam said investigators spent thousands of hours uncovering Ferguson's lies.
"We knew his theory was not correct, so we decided to look into him," he said. "As we went further, and dug deeper, it was amazing how much it spiraled."
Editor's Note: It isn't just Ferguson's credentials that are bogus -- so are his "scientific" conclusions, a point not made clear by the commercial media. Click HERE to review the affidavits of three experts -- Dr. Orsulak, Dr. Riddick and Dr. Kelley -- who all conclude that the medical/toxicological evidence was misrepresented and Virginia could not have killed her husband.