Friday, December 07, 2001

Wehrung not guilty of 1963 murder


Who killed Patty Rebholz still a mystery

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A 38-year-old murder mystery is still a mystery.

        A Hamilton County jury found Michael Wehrung not guilty Thursday of second-degree murder in the 1963 beating death of his then-girlfriend, Greenhills cheerleader Patricia Ann Rebholz.

        Family members of the 54-year-old Springfield Township grandfather, were visibly relieved at the jury's decision, whooping with joy, sighing in relief and crying tears of happiness.

        “We're happy. It's a happy day,” said Debi Wehrung, Mr. Wehrung's wife.

[photo] Debi Wehrung screams for joy as her husband Michael Wehrung is found not guilty in the 1963 murder of Patty Rebholz.
(Michael E. Keating photos)
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        Mr. Wehrung declined comment, but smiled broadly as family members shook his hand and enveloped him in long, lengthy hugs.

        Rebholz family members, sitting mere feet away, were stunned.

        Mel Rebholz, Patty's older brother, said the family is disappointed with the verdict but the proceedings did — after nearly 40 years — bring some semblance of closure.

        “We knew with a jury trial it could go either way,” he said. “But there is a higher court than Hamilton County. We truly believe that and we wouldn't have made it this far if we didn't.”

        Asked if he still believes Mr. Wehrung is responsible for his sister's death, Mr. Rebholz's response was succinct. “Absolutely,” he said.

        For 38 years, authorities had considered Mr. Wehrung the prime suspect in Patty's murder. The case was reopened in 1999. Mr. Wehrung had never been charged. Shortly after the murder, he was made a ward of juvenile court and sent out of state to school.

        But Thursday's acquittal ends his part as a suspect in a homicide case that has revolved around him since the day Patty's battered body was found in a vacant lot near his boyhood home. Both were 15 years old at the time.

        Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen, who tried the case along with Chief Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier, said they had enough evidence to convict, but after 38 years it was much easier to create reasonable doubt.

        “The jury obviously wrestled with the case. We came close,” he said. “What I feel (about Mr. Wehrung's guilt or innocence) is irrelevant. In the eyes of the law he's not guilty.”

[photo] Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen listens to the verdict in the Patty Rebholz murder case. Patty's brother, Mel Rebholz, is in the background.<
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        Hours after the verdict, prosecutors released transcripts of investigative notes and witness interviews from 1963 and the present. The documents had been excluded from trial because either the investigator or the witnesses are now deceased or they were deemed inadmissible.

        In one document, a witness says Patty told her that Michael had hit her before, but she stayed with him because she thought he would change.

        In another document investigators say Mr. Wehrung said he saw Patty the day of the dance talking with another boy. He said he wasn't angry, but figured she was coming over to explain that she had not gone to the dance with that boy.

        Some jury members wept after the verdict and all seemed tired. The seven women and five men in the jury received the case shortly before 12:30 p.m. Wednesday and deliberated until 9 p.m. that day. They returned Thursday at 9 a.m. and announced their verdict about 2:15 p.m.

        They left Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Patrick Dinkelacker's courtroom immediately after the verdict, declining to discuss their decision.

        Patty was killed Aug. 8, 1963, while walking to Mr. Wehrung's home after a Greenhills neighborhood dance.

        Prosecution witnesses testified during the eight-day trial that Patty had intended to break up with Mr. Wehrung so she could date another boy.

        Prosecutors argued that he became jealous and killed her in a fit of rage and panic. They contended that no one else had the motive or the opportunity to commit the crime.

        But defense attorneys countered that there was no physical evidence linking Mr. Wehrung to the murder. After 38 years, DNA experts could not find evidence of blood on pants Mr. Wehrung had supposedly worn the night Patty was killed.

        The defense also introduced a witness who said he saw a strange, unknown teen-age boy following Patty the night she was killed, along with another witness who said someone followed her as well when she left the dance that night.
       



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