Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Man Caught 26 Years Later Through DNA Search of Family Tree Contests Conviction

Image of a DNA double helix

DNA evidence used to catch Logan County man who is contesting his conviction.

Image of a DNA double helix

DNA evidence used to catch Logan County man who is contesting his conviction.

Genetic technology used by millions to trace their ancestry online helped Logan County law enforcement solve a 26-year-old attempted murder and rape case. The question now is, did they find the suspect too late?

DNA evidence led to the 2019 conviction of Ralph Bortree for a crime committed in 1993. Bortree is asking the Supreme Court of Ohio to vacate his conviction. In oral arguments before the Supreme Court next week, he maintains the statute of limitations to charge him with a crime had long passed.

Crime Fighters Turn to Genealogists
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) made several unsuccessful attempts to match DNA from a 1993 crime victim’s clothing and rape kit to a suspect. A BCI DNA analyst suggested in 2019 that the Logan County Sheriff’s Department retain a “genetic genealogist” to try to find out who raped a 19-year-old woman and slashed her throat.

The analyst noted the technique was expensive, but successful in 2018 in catching the notorious “Golden State Killer.” Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. got the nickname for evading identification for more than four decades. Law enforcement eventually matched his DNA to samples submitted to a genealogy database by individuals seeking information about their heritage. DeAngelo was determined to be responsible for more than a dozen murders along with 50 rapes and 120 burglaries in California between 1974 and 1986. He is serving multiple life sentences.

Early DNA Testing Fails to Identify Attacker
In the 1993 Ohio case, a woman identified in court records as “A.C.” was on her way from her home in the small town of Quincy to her night shift job. A.C. said a man pulled his truck in front of her, forced her car to stop, and pointed a gun at her. He ordered her into his truck and drove to a secluded area. There he forced A.C. to perform oral sex. He then drove her to another wooded area and forced her out of the truck. He slit her throat with a knife. A.C. fell to the ground and played dead until the man left. She then ran to a nearby home, where a family called emergency services for help. She was treated at a local hospital for a deep wound to the neck. Her clothes were collected by investigators as evidence.

DNA testing was in its infancy in Ohio in 1993, and the BCI was unable to develop a suspect profile.

Cold Case Revived by Testing Advancement
After years of searching against criminal databases, the BCI suggested the sheriff’s department secure funding to hire a genetic genealogist.

Amanda Reno, an owner of the Texas-based AdvanceDNA, explained a DNA sample that differs from what law enforcement uses to search criminal databases was needed to compare samples against public genealogy websites. After a private lab was able to extract a sample, Reno asked Bailey to give her an approximate geographic area to search.

Reno soon located a profile online of a woman named “Judy A.” and connected it to a family tree that had been placed on a genealogy website. From there, Reno used other databases, such as birth records and census data, to locate the second cousins of Judy A. -- four brothers who lived in the Logan County area.

Investigators narrow the search to two brothers, including Ralph Bortree. They followed Bortree and obtained his saliva from a discarded cigarette butt. His DNA matched that of the DNA found on A.C.’s clothes.

Offender Contests Conviction
Bortree maintains that his constitutional rights were violated by waiting 26 years to charge him with a crime. He argues the statute of limitations expired because the sheriff’s department did little if anything to track down the person who assaulted A.C.

Because A.C. didn’t die from her wound, he cannot be charged with murder, Bortree asserts. The crime of attempted murder or attempted aggravated murder has a six-year statute of limitations, which expired two decades ago, he asserts.

The Logan County Prosecutor’s Office counters that there is no statute of limitations for the crime of aggravated murder, and that includes attempted aggravated murder.

Oral Argument Details
The Court will hear State v. Bortree and two others on June 16, the last day of a three-day oral argument session. The Court will hear four cases on June 14 and three more on June 15. Oral arguments begin each day at 9 a.m. The arguments will be streamed live online at and broadcast live on the Ohio Channel, where they are also available for later viewing.

The Court’s Office of Public Information released preview articles today about each case, available through the case-name links.

Tuesday, June 14

Felony Murder
In 2019, two men who had a minor traffic accident in Independence pulled their vehicles into a gas station. They argued, and the 48-year-old punched the 83-year-old in the jaw. The elderly man fell to the ground, hit his head, and died. The 48-year-old man was found guilty of felony murder and felonious assault and sentenced to 15 years in prison. In State v. Lloyd, the convicted man contends that his lawyer was ineffective because she didn’t understand what the state had to prove for a felony murder conviction – a misunderstanding that affected all of her advice. The Cuyahoga County prosecutor maintains the man gave no proof his attorney was ineffective rather than strategic by focusing on acquittal.

Restitution Rights
In 2017, a Butler County man stole a woman’s car and wrecked it. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison for grand theft. The woman provided repair estimates for the vehicle, but at the man’s sentencing hearing, restitution was discussed but not imposed. Citing the crime victim rights in “Marsy’s Law,” which Ohio voters incorporated into the state constitution, the woman requested that the man be re-sentenced and restitution imposed. By the time the trial court ordered the man to pay restitution, he had already been released from prison. In State v. Brasher, the Court will consider if the woman’s constitutional rights to restitution outweigh the offender’s right to finality of his sentence.

Mental Health Center Immunity
A 30-year-old man died by suicide in 2016 while being held in jail. Alleging wrongful death, negligence, and malpractice, his mother sued the counseling center that provided mental health services to inmates in the Warren County facility. In Stewart v. Solutions Community Counseling and Recovery Centers, the counseling center argues it is immune from the lawsuit under a state law that ensures immunity when a mental health provider doesn’t know a patient intends to commit violent behavior, either self-harm or directed at another person. The mother counters that the law doesn’t address suicide and the lawsuit should move forward in the trial court.

Lengthy Prison Sentence
The Court will hear claims that a 65-year prison sentence for a 55-year-old woman who stole valuables from nursing-home and assisted-living residences is unconstitutional. After an appeals court reduced the woman’s sentence to 15 years, Delaware County prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court. In 2019, the Court ruled the appeals court didn’t use the proper state law to analyze the sentence. When the case returned to the appeals court, it ruled the trial court was authorized to impose the 65-year prison term, even though the appeals court believed her sentence “shocks the conscience.” In State v. Gwynne, the woman argues a sentence that shocks the conscience violates Ohio law and her federal constitutional rights.

Wednesday, June 15
Juvenile Transfer Hearings
A 20-year-old was found shot to death in 2018 in a school parking lot in Maple Heights. The juvenile court held a hearing to decide whether there was probable cause requiring the transfer of a 16-year-old suspect to adult criminal court for prosecution. The juvenile was bound over, found guilty, and sentenced to prison. In State v. Martin, he maintains that an appeals court must weigh the evidence of probable cause that the juvenile court considered in its hearing determining whether to transfer a youth to criminal court. The county prosecutor responds that the appellate review of a juvenile court transfer hearing is more limited because those proceedings are preliminary.

Zoning Dispute
A developer proposed to construct a 202-unit condominium complex on a 30-acre lot in Cuyahoga County’s Olmsted Township in 2012. The plan included a community swimming pool and community center for the use of the development residents and their guests. The township denied the plan finding it violated the township zoning code because there wasn’t enough parking. The developer argues in Willow Grove v. Olsmsted Township Board of Zoning Appeals that the township misinterpreted the zoning code to require additional parking. Even if  the parking is inadequate, construction of the 202 single-family condominiums should be allowed to proceed without the pool and community center, the developer argues.

Death Penalty
State v. Garrett is the death penalty appeal from a Columbus man convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and 4-year-old daughter in 2018. The man pled not guilty by reason of insanity, the jury found him guilty of all charges, and the trial court sentenced him to death. Among the 16 legal arguments, his brief asserts that the trial court improperly instructed the jury to consider mental illness as a mitigating factor even though the defense attorneys had decided against that approach. The county prosecutor argues that the defense couldn’t present evidence of mental illness during the mitigation phase of the trial, then ask the court to not instruct the jury about how to consider mental illness in its deliberations.

Thursday, June 16

School Immunity
In Doe v. Greenville City Schools, two students were badly burned during a 2019 high school science experiment. The students sued the school board, the principal, and the science teacher. The school board maintains that the case should be dismissed because state law gives the school immunity from liability. The students believe an exception to immunity based on a physical defect applies because there was no safety equipment or appropriate classroom safety procedures. The board contends that the exception doesn’t apply because there was no physical defect.

Drug Trafficking
A wholesale distributor of weight-loss prescription drugs and three company executives were indicted in 2019 by a Cuyahoga County grand jury for drug trafficking. The seven-count indictment stemmed from the sale of drugs to healthcare providers, who then sold the drugs to patients. The indictment stated the company  was “not in accordance with Chapter 4729 of the Ohio Revised Code,” but didn’t specify what section of the code was violated. A trial court dismissed the charges after the company argued that a distributor can’t be charged with drug trafficking unless a prosecutor proves a section of R.C. Chapter 4729 was violated. In State v. Troisi, the county prosecutor requests to let the case proceed to trial where the state can demonstrate that the company and its executives violated sections of the law and participated in drug trafficking.