Ohio Supreme Court overturns conviction in 26-year cold case – News-Herald

BY ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS

COLUMBUS — The deadline for indicting Ohio defendants on attempted aggravated murder expires six years after the crime, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a decision overturning the conviction of a man who died 26 years after a brutal assault a woman was prosecuted.

Defendant Ralph Bortree was arrested in 2019 and charged with attempted murder in the 1993 attack of a 19-year-old woman who was kidnapped, raped and pronounced dead in Logan County, west-central Ohio.

While the statute of limitations for rape and kidnapping had expired after six years, the Logan County prosecutor argued that Ohio law still allows Bortree to be charged with attempted murder. Bortree was convicted in 2020 and sentenced to 11 years in prison. The Third Ohio District Court of Appeals upheld that conviction, and Bortree appealed to the State High Court.

Ohio law is clear that the statute of limitations for attempted aggravated murder expires after six years, Judge Michael Donnelly said in his statement. He said that fact created “grave injustice” in Bortree’s case, but said the court had no authority to rewrite state law.

Logan County Attorney Eric Stewart called the verdict “a grossly unfair finding.”

“Our office, investigators and victims are very disappointed with the decision,” Stewart said.

A judge has already filed the paperwork to overturn Bortree’s conviction and he should be released from prison soon, said Holly Cline, one of Bortree’s attorneys.

Bortree’s legal team was pleased that the court upheld its longstanding position that its prosecution was late under Ohio law, Cline said.

“The Ohio Supreme Court has performed its constitutional duty in this case by applying this statute as written,” she said.

In Ohio, there is no statute of limitations for aggravated murder or murder crimes, and these sections of Ohio law cover attempts at such crimes, Stewart argued in the state Supreme Court in June.

The statute of limitations for attempted burglary is 20 years, Stewart said at the time, noting that the appeals court called a shorter period for attempted aggravated murder an “absurd result.”

Bortree pursued the victim, kidnapped her at gunpoint, sexually assaulted her, slit her throat and left her for dead, Stewart said.

“The only reason she’s alive is because he missed her carotid artery by millimeters,” he said.

But Tyack successfully argued that the state had waited too long to indict his client. Because Ohio law doesn’t specifically define a limit for attempted aggravated murder or attempted murder, the statute of limitations on those charges — six years — has expired, Tyack told the court.

“The General Assembly has never stated that these should have any statute of limitations other than the six-year default for a felony,” Tyack said.

Although some DNA traces have been conducted in the case over the years, authorities eventually linked Bortree in 2019 to a technique known as genetic genealogy, which involves locating a suspect’s relatives by uploading the suspect’s DNA to public genealogy websites .

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Samantha Hendrickson, a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative, contributed to this report.

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