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The Truth At Last? 

Scene Reporting Prompts Dna Testing In A Cold Case

Less than a week after Scene reported on the Wayne County prosecutor's apparent reluctance to help Tina Harmon's family learn who really murdered her 27 years ago ("Ghosts of Wayne County," December 31, 2008), the county sheriff finally used his authority to send the evidence to the lab.

On Tuesday morning, Wayne County Sheriff Thomas Maurer spoke briefly with Tina's brother Randy and informed him that Tina's clothing was being transferred to Ohio's Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, where it will be tested for the presence of DNA. The crime lab will be looking specifically for the DNA of Bob Buell, who was executed for the murder of Krista Harrison in 2002. Buell was long suspected of having killed Tina as well, though evidence uncovered by Scene points to Buell's nephew.

Wayne County prosecutor Martin Frantz, who helped send Buell to death row as a young lawyer, promised to release the full file on the Harmon case to Scene but so far, he has not made those records available. However, this week, his office did release an e-mail from Frantz' private account to the Wayne County sheriff, in which he mocked the Harmon family's efforts to seek closure in this case.

"Will that answer serve a law enforcement purpose?" Frantz asked in the e-mail. "If we release all our evidence to the family so they can go to [DNA testing lab Orchid] Cellmark or where ever, do they have access to a sample from Buell? P.S. The last question is rhetorical; it is meant to illustrate how ludicrous the request is."

Perhaps Frantz forgot that Scene has a box of Buell's handwritten letters and envelopes that would surely still contain his DNA and fingerprints. Or maybe that's what he's afraid of.

The Harmon family won't get an answer anytime soon. Testing at BCI&I may take several months, as this unsolved murder is no longer considered a high priority. - James Renner

DOCS FOR DOPE

Marijuana is a medicine. Not many doctors are willing to make that kind of statement publicly, especially when U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raids result in the jailing of physicians, terminally ill patients and state- licensed marijuana growers in states where the medicinal use of marijuana is permitted by law.

But Richard J. Wyderski, a physician at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, believes the benefits of the herbal therapy far outweigh the risks of pushing for legalization. In this case, he's publicly backing Senate Bill 343, most commonly referred to as the Ohio Medical Compassion Act sponsored by State Sen. Tom Roberts (D-Dayton).

SB 343 is similar to the medical marijuana legislation proposed by State Sen. Robert F. Hagan (D-Youngstown) in 2005. That law never received a hearing, but the new bill was the subject of expert testimony in November. The bill would create a "registry identification" card for individuals who use medical marijuana for specific medical conditions. Those with a diagnosis that fits the definition of "debilitating medical condition" outlined in the legislation would be able to apply for the card and use marijuana under the supervision of a licensed medical doctor. Those conditions include cancer, positive status for HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, Crohn's disease, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, spinal-cord injuries and other chronic-pain syndromes.

"The Institute of Medicine report reviewed all the scientific evidence of the effectiveness of marijuana used as a medication for a variety of conditions," Wyderski says. "Muscle spastisity for multiple sclerosis is one of the most commonly used examples, but there's evidence it works for nausea - cancer patients who have nausea with chemotherapy."

Under SB 343, patients, doctors and individuals who work at sites that cultivate medical marijuana would all be protected from arrest and prosecution under state law. That's important, Wyderski says, because it begins to differentiate between drug use and drug abuse. Disregarding the relative safety of marijuana as a medicine and putting it on par with drugs like heroine or cocaine keep a legitimate drug out of reach.

The U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to hear a case let stand a lower court ruling that a doctor is allowed to discuss the benefits and risks of marijuana, so Ohio doctors are allowed to discuss this medical option. But when it comes to pain management and quality of life for terminally ill people, doctors need more freedom and protection.

Using unregulated herbal therapies as his example, Wyderski makes his case for passage of SD 343.

"We already have people using all kind of herbal therapies for all kinds of other things, and herbal therapies are not regulated by the FDA," he says. "We have black cohosh for menopausal symptoms. People use ginkgo biloba thinking it might help their memory.

"[Marijuana] is a special plant because of abuse potential, and it probably should be controlled in some way. I think SB 343 reasonably puts into place those kinds of controls while at the same time allowing individuals to have access to a plant that does have medicinal value." - Margo Pierce

HE COULD GO ALL THE WAY

Plain Dealer sports columnist Terry Pluto made the short list of Houghton Mifflin's The Best American Sports Writing 2008 book. The November 2, 2007 piece, "Winners Already," was about Cleveland's South High coach (and alumnus) Jarvis Gibson guiding his inner-city football team to the playoffs for the first time in school history - while he fought leukemia. It was one of the first pieces he wrote for the paper following jumping ship from the Akron Beacon Journal after 22 years. The story didn't quite make the cut, but it's listed at the end, page 406, among the "Notable Sports Writing of 2007," as selected by series editor Glenn Stout.

Stout doesn't comment on individual stories, not even to let the runners-up know they've been selected. When Scene called Pluto for a comment, it was the first he'd heard about it.

"I really did like that story," says Pluto. "It's something you could never make up. If you had to pick one story from 2007 as my best story, that's it - at least, to me, the most meaningful one. And it's always good to be picked on that type of story too, a high-school story. This is more the kind of story that I really like to do than another depressing drum beat on a Browns season." - D.X. Ferris

 

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