Trials in child's death delayed until final ruling on gag order


NAPOLEON - The trials of a Henry County pair charged in the death of a 13-month-old girl were postponed Friday by the judge who had barred the media from promptly reporting on the first trial.

Judge Keith P. Muehlfeld of Henry County Common Pleas Court continued the trials of Jayme Schwenkmeyer, 24, and David E. Knepley, 50, until the Ohio Supreme Court issues a final decision on whether his media ban may stand.

Acting on a motion filed by The Blade late Wednesday, the Supreme Court on Thursday issued a 6-1 decision suspending Judge Muehlfeld's gag order on the media until it can fully review the issue. Justice Maureen O'Connor cast the dissenting vote, saying that she supported a final ruling in The Blade's favor.

The newspaper contends the ban is an unconstitutional prior restraint of the First Amendment rights of free press and free speech.

At a hearing in Henry County Common Pleas Court yesterday, Mr. Knepley's attorney, Clayton Crates of Defiance, asked the court to postpone his client's trial until the Supreme Court rules in the case.

It was Mr. Crates who had asked the court to ban the media from publishing or broadcasting what they heard at Ms. Schwenkmeyer's trial until a jury was seated in Mr. Knepley's case. Mr. Crates maintained the jury pool called for Mr. Knepley's trial could be tainted by the pretrial publicity.

Judge Muehlfeld, who declined to comment after the hearing yesterday, issued the gag order Dec. 4, and it was in place when Ms. Schwenkmeyer went on trial Dec. 7. That trial ended with a mistrial, prompting the court to schedule a new trial for Ms. Schwenkmeyer to begin Monday. Mr. Knepley's trial was set to begin a week later, on Feb. 8.

Both defendants are charged with involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment stemming from the 2007 death of Ms. Schwenkmeyer's young daughter, Kamryn Gerken, from a drug overdose.

Toledo attorney Dave Klucas, who represents Ms. Schwenkmeyer, said he was prepared to go to trial Monday and initially objected to delaying his client's trial.

After Judge Muehlfeld decided to postpone both trials, Mr. Klucas asked that Ms. Schwenkmeyer's bond be amended so that she could be released from the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio near Stryker, where she has been jailed since November.

While both she and Mr. Knepley had been out on bond since their 2008 indictment, Judge Muehlfeld revoked her bond in November after prosecutors presented evidence that she had violated the terms of her bond by testing positive for drugs.

Judge Muehlfeld agreed yesterday to release Ms. Schwenkmeyer from CCNO but required her to be on electronic home monitoring under the supervision of her husband, Tim Novak, of Liberty Center. The judge also ordered her to report to the county's adult probation department at least twice a week and to submit to random drug testing.

Henry County Prosecutor John Hanna did not object to her release.

The trials could be delayed for two months or more while attorneys for The Blade and Judge Muehlfeld file evidence and briefs with the Supreme Court.

"Given the circumstances surrounding this case, there being at least some fundamental fairness here as a result of The Blade's actions, we would not be opposed to that motion to amend Ms. Schwenkmeyer's bond," Mr. Hanna said.

After Judge Muehlfeld said she could be released from jail, Mr. Klucas withdrew his objection to her trial's delay.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

or 419-724-6129.