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Published: Tuesday, 7/25/2006

Doren given life term in Northwood slaying

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A deputy handcuffs Ralph Doren after his conviction in Wood County court for the 1991 slaying of Deana Meeks. A deputy handcuffs Ralph Doren after his conviction in Wood County court for the 1991 slaying of Deana Meeks.
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BOWLING GREEN - Joyce Baird couldn't contain her disgust for the man convicted yesterday of murdering her youngest daughter back in 1991.

"Ralph, you're the lowest scum there is and ever will be," Ms. Baird said to Ralph Doren. "I'll never forgive you for taking my baby away from me. You're no good and I hope you rot in hell."

After deliberating for four hours, a jury in Wood County Common Pleas Court found Doren, 56, guilty of aggravated murder for the June 7, 1991, slaying of Deana Meeks, 19, of Northwood. He slashed her throat in the kitchen of the Lester Avenue home she shared with her mother and Ms. Baird's boyfriend, Boyd "Smitty" Smith.

Doren stood emotionless as Common Pleas Judge Reeve Kelsey sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years. Judge Kelsey made no further comment but ordered that the sentence be served consecutively to the 30 to 60-year sentence Doren is serving in Michigan for an unrelated 1993 rape conviction.

He is first eligible for parole in Michigan in 2017, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections Web site.

Doren's attorney, David Klucas, said a notice of appeal would be filed in the next few days. He declined to comment further after the proceeding.

After listening to testimony for nearly two weeks, Larry Meeks, the victim's father, said he was convinced Doren was responsible for his daughter's murder.

Meeks Meeks
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"I'm glad it's over with," he said outside the courtroom. "The officials of Wood County are the best."

He told the court prior to sentencing that the verdict was a long time coming.

"This has been the longest 15 years of my life," Mr. Meeks said. "This man took away a friend, an aunt, a niece, but most of all a daughter."

Prosecutors contended during the two-week trial that Doren, who previously worked with Mr. Smith at Dave White Chevrolet in Sylvania, went to the house to steal money while Mr. Smith was at work and Ms. Baird was away at the couple's lake cottage in Michigan. Once in the house, though, he encountered Miss Meeks and killed her so she would not call police, prosecutors said.

Since the day of the murder, investigators have said Miss Meeks was an innocent victim. A 1989 Lake High School graduate, she had joined the Air National Guard and just completed basic training. She was working at Jo-Ann Fabrics and Maumee Bay State Park to earn money for college.

"The morning of the murder she had begun writing a letter to her boyfriend and in it she talked about the jobs she was working. She said it was difficult but it would pay off in the long run," said Assistant Wood County Prosecutor Bill Connelly. "For the immediate gratification of money, Deana Meeks is dead."

Mr. Connelly and Chief Assistant Prosecutor Paul Dobson expressed relief after what has been years of frustrating investigations.

"It was a close case from the word go. We knew it was going to be a close case," Mr. Dobson said, explaining that there was little physical evidence and a lot of foggy memories to jog so many years later.

Doren became a suspect in the "cold" murder investigation in 1997 when he contacted authorities saying he had information about the Meeks homicide. Investigators visited him in prison, where Doren told them he knew who killed Miss Meeks.

Chief Assistant Prosecutor Paul Dobson hugs Joyce Baird, mother of murder victim Deana Meeks, after the conviction yesterday of Ralph Doren in Ms. Meeks  1991 slaying.
Chief Assistant Prosecutor Paul Dobson hugs Joyce Baird, mother of murder victim Deana Meeks, after the conviction yesterday of Ralph Doren in Ms. Meeks 1991 slaying.
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He said he would only give police the killer's name if they could arrange his immediate release from prison. To show he could be believed, he told them where they could find some property stolen from Mr. Smith's house the day of the murder, and investigators recovered the property exactly where he directed them. They could not arrange his early release, though, and Doren stopped talking to them.

While that was a turning point in the investigation, it wasn't until Northwood police reopened the case in 2003 that enough new evidence was discovered to bring an indictment against Doren.

In Texas, Detective Trent Schroeder located a former Lester Avenue resident who recalled seeing a strange-looking man walk by her house carrying a backpack the afternoon of the murder.

In 2003, she was shown a photo array of six men and picked Doren out of the line-up as the man who "most resembled" the man she saw that day.

Mr. Schroeder also re-interviewed Gary Mickens, a former associate of Doren's, who recalled accompanying him to Northwood back in 1991 and seeing Doren return to the car with blood on his shirt.

"Ralph Doren gave us the case we needed," Northwood Police Chief Jerry Herman said yesterday. "In fact when we talked to him in prison, he said, 'You had nothing if it wasn't for me.' And I said, 'You're right.'‚óŹ"

Contact Jennifer Feehan

at jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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