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Published: Tuesday, 7/18/2006

Witness recognized suspect near '91 slaying site

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Doren Doren
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BOWLING GREEN - Margaret Robbins didn't know many of her neighbors when she lived on Northwood's Lester Avenue in 1991, but she knew that the dirty, ragged-looking man who walked past her house on the afternoon of June 7 didn't belong.

About 12 years later, Ms. Robbins said she recognized the stranger "instantaneously" when police showed her a photo array of suspects in the murder of 19-year-old Deana Meeks, whose throat was cut in her Lester Avenue kitchen that day in 1991. She picked Ralph Doren out of the six-person photo lineup.

"I felt very nervous. I felt the same chill go up my body as when I saw the man go past my house," Ms. Robbins, 45, testified yesterday in Wood County Common Pleas Court.

Doren, 56, is on trial for the aggravated murder of Miss Meeks.

Despite her certainty about the stranger's identity, Ms. Robbins, who now lives in North Carolina, admitted upon questioning by defense attorney Scott Hicks that she could not recall some of the statements she made to Northwood police 15 years ago, including the fact that she said the stranger walked past her house twice or that she saw the man between noon and 1 p.m.

Prosecutors have said Miss Meeks was last seen alive by a bank teller about 1:45 p.m. the day she was killed. Her body was found just after 7 that evening by her mother's boyfriend, Boyd "Smitty" Smith, who owned the house where they lived. The house had been ransacked.

Yesterday, Darryl Henderson, a special agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, testified that he was asked to look at the "cold case" in 1995 but did not hear Doren's name until April, 1997, when the Lucas County Sheriff's Office received an anonymous tip that Doren had information about the Meeks homicide.

Doren at the time was in prison in Michigan and offered to name Miss Meeks' killer if prosecutors in Wood County could get him an immediate release from prison. Mr. Henderson said Doren told them about an unnamed man he used to drink and smoke crack with who admitted to him that he killed Miss Meeks.

Doren said he was with the man a few days after the homicide when the man directed him to drive to a wooded area north of Sylvania where he dumped a bag containing jewelry and a coin set. Doren gave them directions to the site, Mr. Henderson said, and investigators found the bag, jewelry, and coins taken from Mr. Smith's house the day of the homicide. Doren, though, refused to name Miss Meeks' killer after they told him they could not persuade a judge to release him from prison.

"He refused to provide us with the identity, the name, where this person lives other than that it was a friend of his that he smoked crack with," Mr. Henderson said.

He said he and investigator John Helm tracked individuals Doren was known to smoke crack with, but the investigation ultimately pointed to Doren as the suspected killer. After that, three fellow inmates at the Michigan prison where Doren was assigned came forward saying they had information linking Doren to the murder.

Two of those men - David Dempsey and Michael Coddington - took the stand yesterday, both testifying that Doren told them on different occasions that he killed Miss Meeks.

"She had seen something he was stealing from the father and she said she was going to tell," Coddington said. "He said he cut her throat."

Contact Jennifer Feehan

at jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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