We’ve seen it in movies, on TV screens, in print media and in books, the dogged determination that drives some to do what they can to rectify a perceived injustice. It’s an injustice often caused unwittingly by those who’ve taken on the difficult jobs of investigating and enforcing the law and those who work within the courtrooms in the real-life version of that television staple, “Law and Order.”
When it comes to wrongful convictions in the United States, a quick mouse-click trip taken to Wikipedia, the online resource that helped to put all those hard-copy Encyclopedia Britannica door-to-door salesmen out of business back in 2012, shows a lengthy list of wrongful convictions, dating from 1805, decade by decade, all the way through to the dawn of 2020.
Some wrongful convictions have gained a measure of notoriety, so much so, that the vehicle used to make the cases prominent has prompted enough outrage that the wrongly accused and convicted have been exonerated.
As a former social studies teacher with 35 years of service at St. Marys Memorial High School, Brice Brenneman, from 2002 through his last year teaching in 2011, used the PBS Frontline documentary “An Ordinary Crime,” in class as a teaching aid. The documentary told the story of 16-year-old Terence Garner from North Carolina who, in 1998, was sentenced to 32-to-43 years after being convicted of attempted murder, kidnapping and armed robbery.
Says Brenneman, “The documentary showed my classes the mistakes that were made by the prosecutor and judge and showed overwhelming evidence that Garner was wrongly convicted. The airing of Garner’s story prompted so much public anger that the trial judge was recused and a new judge assigned. Shortly after, Garner was released on bond from prison, and within months, the same district attorney who prosecuted Garner in the first trial dismissed all charges.”
In the Garner case, a Raleigh reporter named Anne Saker was assigned the story after Garner’s conviction. It was her reporting that kept Garner’s story alive long enough to draw the attention of the producers of Frontline to air the injustice.
Similar to Saker’s determined examination and reporting of the Garner case, Brenneman has also written extensively about a case involving a former well-respected St. Marys optometrist, Doug Wine, who was accused of a sex crime by his mother-in-law and was convicted in 2011.
Brenneman had just retired from teaching when Wine’s trial was about to commence. Although never having had Doug Wine as a student, Brenneman remembered when he was a new teacher at Memorial that Wine was both a highly respected class leader and an excellent student-athlete.
Says Brenneman, “I decided to attend the trial and after the third and final day and a 15-hour jury deliberation, I realized there was so much that just didn’t add up for me, that such a well-respected person his entire life could be accused of something so bizarre.”
And that started Brenneman on a very deep dive into the case. He requested and has read every word of the transcripts of both the original trial and the appeal. Additionally, he’s examined the transcripts of law-enforcement interviews and polygraphs as well as reams of legal documents provided by Wine’s legal counsel.
In 2014, Brenneman created a website with an assist from his son Jameel that included a posting of a 50-page essay written by the former social studies teacher titled “Twelve Reasons I Believe Doug Wine Is Innocent,” one still online today.
Brenneman’s most recent work on behalf of Wine is his published book titled “The Strange Case of Dr. Wine (A Miscarriage of Justice in Auglaize County, Ohio)”. The book is an extension of Brenneman’s original online essay, which includes new information that he’s uncovered since posting the essay. The book is available for $10 in St. Marys at Pantry Pride Grocery and Vogel Bake Shop and also is available on eBay.
Wine wound up spending 77 days in Orient Correctional Institution after the charge was reduced on appeal to misdemeanor sexual imposition. Since then, he’s been required to register as a sex offender and has lost his license to practice optometry. Financial circumstances obviously worsened as a result of his having to sell his practice although he counts as a blessing a marriage that has remained intact and his solid relationship with all three of his children.
Brenneman’s contention after years of immersion in the case is that the systems in place for real-life law and order- from law enforcement’s investigatory work to the efforts of those who comprise the court system, despite the good intentions for the majority of those who work in those arenas, can be at times so very imperfect. Brenneman feels, in Wine’s case, those mistakes would include both the original trial and the appeal hearing.
As for the end game for Brenneman’s passionate quest, well, that’s easy for him to express.
“This is all about redressing a wrong for someone I, and so many others, believe is a good man, an innocent man and someone who’s suffered greatly for something he clearly didn’t do.”
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.