BOWLING GREEN - Calling the 1991 murder of Deanna Meeks a real "whodunit," Wood County Prosecutor Paul Dobson said yesterday he's sure he knows who cut the young woman's throat and left her to die in a pool of her own blood.
"The case turns 19 years old today," Mr. Dobson told Common Pleas Judge Robert Pollex during opening arguments. "Who committed this heinous crime? The answer will be Ralph Doren."
Doren, 60, a former Sylvania resident, is on trial for the second time for the aggravated murder of Miss Meeks, a 19-year-old Northwood resident who was killed during what investigators believe was a burglary at the Lester Avenue home she shared with her mother, Joyce Baird, and Ms. Baird's boyfriend, Boyd "Smitty" Smith.
In 2006, a jury found Doren guilty of the crime, but the 6th District Court of Appeals overturned his conviction in 2009, saying Judge Reeve Kelsey should have declared a mistrial when prosecutors inadvertently played a tape for the jury in which Doren mentioned a polygraph examination. No references to a polygraph were to be admitted as evidence during the trial.
Mr. Dobson told the court yesterday that no evidence was found to link anyone to the murder until 1997, when Doren himself said he knew who killed Miss Meeks and would identify her killer if he could be released from prison.
Doren, who chose to have his second trial before a judge rather than a jury, is serving a 30-to-60-year prison sentence in Michigan for an unrelated 1993 rape in Monroe County.
Mr. Dobson said Doren led investigators to jewelry taken during the burglary and discarded in a wooded area. The new evidence soon led to more and to witnesses who linked Doren to the brutal murder, he said.
Doren's lawyer, Dave Klucas, countered that in fact there is no physical evidence tying Doren to the murder, and investigators found five fingerprints at the crime scene that they could not identify, although they do know they did not belong to Doren.
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"There's no fingerprints. There's no DNA. … There's no type of scientific evidence that connects Mr. Doren to the crime scene," Mr. Klucas said.
What the state has, Mr. Klucas said, is inconsistent statements from witnesses who initially said they did not know anything about the murder, as well as unreliable statements from prison inmates who claim Doren confessed the crime to them.
"The state is going to illicit testimony that is completely inconsistent in any meaningful fashion with this crime scene, completely inconsistent in any meaningful fashion with what they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt," he said.
Among those who took the stand yesterday was Mr. Smith, now 80, who said he had worked with Doren for a couple of years in the body shop at Dave White Chevrolet in Sylvania and that Doren had been to his house, played his slot machine, and occasionally borrowed money from him.
He said Doren asked to borrow $200 from him three to four months before Miss Meeks was killed, and Mr. Smith refused because he knew Doren wasn't working at the time.
"I said I didn't have $200 and he said, 'Call Joyce and she can get $200 in quarters out of the slot machine,'•" Mr. Smith testified.
Mr. Smith said he came home from his job on June 7, 1991, worked in his garage for a couple hours, and then went into the house, where he discovered Miss Meeks' body on the kitchen floor. The house had been ransacked - jewelry was stolen and the slot machine emptied.
Mr. Dobson said Miss Meeks died of a single, deep cut to her throat that severed her jugular vein and trachea. He told the court Doren had entered the house to burglarize it during the afternoon, believing no one was home, and was confronted by Miss Meeks.
"This is a case about greed," Mr. Dobson said. "Pure, simple greed."
The victim's father, Larry Meeks of Oak Harbor, said outside the courtroom that he was convinced after the 2006 trial that Doren killed his daughter, and he's "still convinced. [The appeals court decision] didn't change my opinion of what took place."
The trial is expected to continue through Thursday.
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