Death penalty looms over Mercer murder case

  • In US
  • 2021-10-22 04:01:00Z
  • By The Lima News, Ohio

Oct. 22-CELINA - An Indiana woman charged with killing and dismembering 22-year-old Ryan Zimmerman appeared briefly Thursday in Mercer County Common Pleas Court.

Sarah Buzzard, 30, of Marion, Indiana, is charged with 18 felony counts in connection with the death of Zimmerman, whose skeletal remains - minus a skull and arms - were found near Grand Lake St. Marys State Park on Jan. 3, 2016.

The two most serious charges against Buzzard - aggravated murder - carry death penalty implications.

Thursday's court appearance was Buzzard's first since Sept. 27, when she pleaded not guilty to all charges against her during an arraignment hearing and also waived her constitutional speedy trial rights.

Buzzard was indicted by a grand jury in September on charges that include two counts of aggravated murder and two counts of murder, each unclassified felonies; three counts of kidnapping, felonies of the first degree; a second-degree felony count of felonious assault; a third-degree felony charge of abduction; five counts of tampering with evidence, felonies of the third degree; grand theft of a motor vehicle, a fourth-degree felony; possessing criminal tools, a fourth-degree felony; and two counts of abuse of a corpse, felonies of the fifth degree.

Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey held a press conference in August to announce that the lengthy investigation into Zimmerman's death had been resolved.

Grey said search warrants were served on electronic media companies to learn about social networks on which Zimmerman communicated. Suspects were developed and were found to live in Marion. Another suspect was believed to live in Oak Island, North Carolina.

"The investigation led us to the location where Ryan was murdered and dismembered. A search warrant was executed at that location in Columbus and ... critical evidence was located to be examined at the BCI lab. The search warrant remains under seal so no more information will be released at this time," Grey said at that time.

On Aug. 25, Mercer County detectives were in Columbus, Ohio, Marion, Indiana and Oak Island, N.C. - assisted by local police agencies and officers from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation - and conducted simultaneous interviews with witnesses and suspects. Detectives had an arrest warrant for Sarah Buzzard, who was residing in Marion and was taken into custody.

It was then determined that Buzzard's wife, Naira (Jenna) Whitaker, 33, had participated in the crime. As Mercer County detectives were seeking an arrest warrant, police and BCI agents attempted to arrest Whitaker at her residence in Marion, Indiana.

When told she was going to be arrested, Whitaker pulled a handgun from her purse and died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Grey said Buzzard admitted to strangling Zimmerman and dismembering his body.

Judge Jeffrey Ingraham scheduled the next pre-trial hearing for Nov. 22.


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