Toxicologist Who Perjured Testimony Cannot Be Sued

An Ohio court ruled that the a toxicologist whose perjured himself on the witness stand cannot be sued by a woman convicted of murder in the case. Virginia Lefever was convicted of murder in 1990 after her husband died of a drug overdose. Defense attorneys argued that William Lefever committed suicide by overdosing on antidepressants after his wife filed for divorce, but prosecutors said the woman poisoned her husband. Franklin County toxicologist James Franklin testified for the prosecution that William did not commit suicide, but was poisoned, injected by his wife with strychnine and arsenic and locked in a room with a pest control fumigator. After being found guilty and serving 20 years in prison, Virginia Lefever's conviction was overturned and she was released from prison when it came to light that James Franklin had perjured himself on the witness stand. The judge who overturned her conviction said that the conviction was "based in large part on the testimony of a proven liar." Franklin lied about the year he graduated from Ohio State University. He testified that he got his degree in 1972, but in fact, he received his degree in 1988, only two years before the Lefever case. One source says that "he did not take many normally-required classes in his biochemistry major and he failed other basic classes. No one from The Ohio State University can figure out how received his degree." Another story from the same news source clarifies, "His transcript showed that he could not pass basic, undergraduate courses.  Ferguson failed key classes multiple times and two Ohio State professors said under oath that he missed at least six classes normally required to graduate." After Virginia Lefever was released from prison with her murder conviction overturned, she filed a lawsuit against James Ferguson, the city, two counties, two police officers, and others, saying that they conspired against her by concocting evidence and making a false murder accusation against her. All of the plaintiffs except Ferguson were granted immunity and dismissed from the lawsuit. Ferguson, however, was found partially liable. However, earlier this month, a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the judge's ruling in the lawsuit. The appeals court held that all testimony is given full immunity in an effort to protect witnesses and encourage them to offer full disclosure and honesty on the witness stand. Ironically, the Court ruled that this immunity applies even to perjured testimony. Ferguson pleaded guilty in 2010 to two counts of falsification. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Lefever is not the only Ohio inmate whose conviction was overturned as a result of Ferguson's perjury:

  • In 2011, Denni E. Frase, then 62, was released from prison after spending 16 years behind bars for the murder of her husband after he was found dead of a lethal dose of morphine. After her conviction was overturned, she pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. She was given a 10-25 year suspended sentence with credit for time served. Additionally, she signed documents agreeing not to seek further legal action against the state.
  • In  2011, Benjamin Uselton, then 28, was released from prison after serving 8 years for involuntary manslaughter in the traffic deaths of two of his friends. Uselton, who was not involved in the crash, had sold the pair a "small amount of Xanax," which was found in their systems after the wreck. Although a coroner determined that the driver did not have enough Xanax in the bloodstream to affect driving, Ferguson testified to the contrary. Uselton's attorney said, "The science of it was hokey. This guy is a convicted liar."
Uselton also filed a lawsuit against Ferguson, but with the appeals court's decision that a person cannot be held liable for lying on the witness stand, that lawsuit will likely also be dismissed.

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