The Sixth District Court of Appeals has overturned a Fulton County court ruling that dismissed murder charges against Walter E. Zimbeck, 43, Strawberry Plains, Tenn.
The appellate court filed its decision with the Fulton County Clerk of Courts, Friday, May 6.
"I am obviously very pleased with the Court of Appeals decision in this matter. I look forward to receiving a new trial date from the (Fulton County) Common Pleas Court," said Scott Haselman, Fulton County prosecuting attorney.
Zimbeck was indicted on counts of murder and aggravated murder in connection with the death of Lori Ann Hill, a 14-year old Swanton girl who disappeared the night of Oct. 25, 1985.
A hunter discovered her body in a wooded area north of Wauseon four days later.
Both the Fulton and Lucas County sheriff departments investigated the case, but leads turned cold. Fulton County officials presented a case to a grand jury in November 1986, but the grand jury did not return any indictments.
The case surfaced again in July 2009 after an eight-month investigation by the Toledo Police Department Cold Case unit.
On July 20, 2009, a Fulton County grand jury returned the two-count indictment against Zimbeck. About 10 pm that same day, Sevier County (Tenn.) Sheriff deputies arrested Zimbeck at his home.
Zimbeck entered "not guilty" pleas to the two charges at an initial appearance in Fulton County Common Pleas Court on July 27, 2009.
Less than six months later, on January 10, 2010, James Barber, Fulton County Common Pleas Court judge, dismissed the charges against Zimbeck.
Zimbeck was held at the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio during the six-month period as the case proceeded through Fulton County Common Pleas Court.
Court records indicate he was released on his own recognizance while Haselman appealed Barber’s decision.
Gregory VanGunten, Zimbeck’s court-appointed attorney, said at the time of the dismissal that Zimbeck passed a 1985 polygraph test and was ruled out as a suspect. Zimbeck listed alibi witnesses, but because of the polygraph results, investigators never checked them.
VanGunten told this newspaper at the time, "Several witnesses 24 years later are now dead. Others cannot remember exactly what they were doing on the evening of Oct. 25, 1985, and Mr. Zimbeck has lost the ability to establish his alibi because of their 24-year dimmed memories."
In the 23-page decision, Mark Pietrykowski, one member of the three-judge appellate panel, said Zimbeck must prove that the lost alibi witnesses, diminished memories of those witnesses available, and missing evidence could prove him "not guilty."
The appellate decision also notes that in 1985, Zimbeck gave contradictory statements to investigators from Fulton and Lucas counties.
The appellate decision notes one witness had clear memories of the night Hill went missing, but later changed her story after she had spoken with Zimbeck.
The decision also contains information that another alibi witness told a different story than Zimbeck about the night Hill disappeared.
The appellate decision states, "Investigators did not begin to suspect Zimbeck until the cold case unit gathered records from the Fulton County and Lucas County investigations and compared them."
The investigators interviewed witnesses, and developed new information.
"…It was the new evidence, by way of witnesses’ statements, that directed investigators’ attention to Zimbeck."
The appeals court, in it decision, stated, "the judgment of the Fulton County Court of Common Pleas is reversed.
"This matter remanded (returned) to that court for further proceedings."–Posted 5.6, 10:30 pm