The Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of Thomas Zich for the 1991 murder of his wife, whose body was found in the trunk of her car parked on an East Toledo street.
The appeals court affirmed the guilty verdict reached by a Lucas County Common Pleas Court jury in 2009 – a case that drew widespread interest because it had been a cold case reopened and involved several police agencies.
Mary Jane Zich, then 27, was last seen alive in late November 1991 at her residence in Clay Township. On Dec. 18, her body was found in her car trunk on Greenwood Ave. and Toledo police determined the car had been parked there for about three weeks.
The Lucas County coroner’ said she had been strangled. Investigators theorized the murder occurred after she asked her husband for a divorce.
Zich was arrested in 2007. He was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
His appeal was based on several points, including the trial court erred by allowing the testimony of three of his ex-wives as witnesses; the Lucas County court lacked venue, and his right to a fair trial had been violated when the court allowed a lay witness to offer expert testimony regarding a comparison of rope.
The appeals court ruled that, “In the instant case, we find that the three choking events that were testified to by appellant's ex-wives were sufficiently related to and shared common features with the ligature murder of the victim in this case… such that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in permitting the other acts into evidence.”
Zich’s argument on the venue issue was also rejected by the appeals court, which noted the state’s statute says if the jurisdiction where the offense was committed can’t reasonably be determined, venue is “proper in the county in which a body is discovered.
“In this case, although there was evidence suggesting that a struggle occurred in the Zich's home in Ottawa County, there was no evidence that the victim died in this struggle. Accordingly, it could not reasonably be determined where the offense occurred. Venue was proper in Lucas County, where the body was discovered, and the trial court correctly denied the motion for acquittal,” the appeals court ruled.
The court also rejected Zich’s claim regarding the testimony about the rope believed to have been used to strangle his wife.
“John Buchert testified that a rope...appeared to be the same type of rope he had seen in appelant’s garage. His testimony was ‘rationally based’ on his perception and was therefore appropriate,” the court ruled. “Coroner Breisser testified as to the dimensions of the rope that could have caused the abrasions found on the victim’s body. She did not opine that the rope marked as exhibit 12 was, in fact, the instrument used to strangle the victim, but rather that that particular piece of rope could not be excluded as the instrument that caused abrasions on the victim’s neck, Such testimony was properly admitted.”