Woman Sues After Prison Release

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A woman whose 1990 murder conviction was overturned because of improper testimony by a toxicologist is suing several Franklin and Licking county officials.

Virginia LeFever was convicted of her husband’s 1988 murder and spent more than two decades in prison before former Franklin County toxicologist James Ferguson was convicted of falsification last year for misstating his credentials.

She was released in November.

Now, LeFever says, she is looking for justice. The lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court in Columbus names Ferguson, Licking County Coroner Robert Raker, a former Newark police officer and a current Newark detective and unknown employees of the city of Newark and Franklin and Licking counties. It seeks unspecified damages.

Neither Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien nor Licking County Prosecutor Ken Oswalt could be reached for comment yesterday.

LeFever said the most-damaging losses were sentimental things.

“My grandkids were born; I lost touch with my friends,” LeFever said at a news conference. “ There were a lot of milestones I was not there to help with.”

The lawsuit alleges that, after William LeFever’s death, Ferguson worked with Raker and the officers to falsify the toxicology reports and deliberately misinterpret the existing evidence to make it appear that Virginia LeFever had poisoned her husband.

Virginia and William LeFever had a tumultuous marriage, marked by his depression, drug and alcohol addiction, failing job performance and repeated physical abuse. She eventually filed for divorce and custody of their three small children.

On Sept. 20, 1988, William LeFever collected his belongings from the family garage. He stayed for dinner and then fell asleep on a couch. He awoke irrational, and Virginia LeFever said she discovered that he had ingested several old prescription antidepressant pills.

Later, at Licking Memorial Hospital, doctors administered medications to stabilize him, but he died on Sept. 22, 1988.

The Licking County coroner ruled that William LeFever’s death was related to an overdose of amitriptyline, an antidepressant drug commonly sold under the brand name Elavil. Ferguson testified that only an injection of the medication would account for how the drug increased in strength in William LeFever’s body while he was in the hospital.

The prosecution said that Virginia LeFever, a nurse, had administered the injection and then put her semiconscious husband into a closed room with a pesticide.

“(We have facts to show) the science used was concocted and that evidence was withheld,” said Samantha Lisko, one of LeFever’s attorneys. “We believe it will be clear to a jury that her original conviction was not based in solid science and facts.”

Alex Stuckey is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau.