Trial Starts In Case Of Boyfriend Charged In 1963 Killing

By JOHN NOLAN, Associated Press Writer

CINCINNATI (AP) - A businessman went on trial Monday in the beating death 38 years ago of his high school girlfriend.

Michael Wehrung, now a 54-year-old roofing company executive, watched and listened from the defense table as lawyers began questioning a pool of about 50 possible jurors for a trial that could take two weeks.

He has pleaded innocent after being indicted last year on a charge of second-degree murder in the 1963 slaying of Patricia Ann Rebholz. Both were 15 at the time of her death in Greenhills, a Cincinnati suburb.

Judge Patrick Dinkelacker of Hamilton County Common Pleas Court said he hoped to seat a jury by the end of the day.

Authorities reopened the long-stalled investigation, used modern DNA testing methods to re-examine bloodied clothing preserved from the original investigation and re-interviewed surviving witnesses.

It led to Wehrung's indictment in May 2000.

Wehrung could be sent to prison for life if convicted as charged.

He, his lawyers and county prosecutors declined to discuss the case outside of court.

Rebholz's skull was fractured by repeated blows from a piece of fence post on Aug. 8, 1963. Her bloodied body was found in the early morning hours the next day in a field across the street from Wehrung's home, about 50 yards away.

Police said Rebholz had gone to a dance that night without Wehrung, against his wishes. She had called Wehrung to say she was coming over to his house and wanted to talk with him. A friend of hers later told police that Rebholz had planned to tell Wehrung she was ending their relationship.

Police intensively questioned Wehrung in the days and weeks after the killing. He told police he had been waiting at home for her to show up.

But he told a television reporter that his "other self" might have killed her. A coroner's investigator repeated that assertion in a 1965 report about the case.

Juvenile Court Judge Benjamin Schwartz, concerned about the repeated police interrogations of the 15-year-old Wehrung, took him under court protection as a ward of the state. The judge sent him to a military school in North Carolina, effectively shutting down the investigation.

The judge has since died, as have the original police investigators and some of the witnesses police interviewed. But prosecutors plan to present testimony from surviving witnesses, including the television reporter who talked with Wehrung. A judge has said the prosecution also may use investigative notes from a now-deceased police officer who wrote that Wehrung said he thought he killed the girl, but couldn't remember anything about it.

The defense argued that Wehrung, although now an adult, should be tried in Juvenile Court because he was a teen when the slaying occurred. But in July, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that Wehrung can be tried as an adult under a 1996 Ohio law which takes jurisdiction away from Juvenile Court if a juvenile defendant is not taken into custody or apprehended until after age 21.

(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)