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COLUMBUS -- After serving 29 years for the murder of Gayle Meggyesy, John Friedrich will walk free.
Release of Friedrich, who was sentenced to 18 years to life for the March 29, 1986, murder, was granted at the conclusion of a Thursday full hearing by the Ohio Parole Board. He began serving that sentence on March 25, 1988, after a Holmes County Jury found him not guilty of aggravated murder, but guilty of murder.
The majority decision to release Friedrich on or after March 26 was announced by board Chairman Andre Imbrogno, who, noting there were "obviously very strong feelings on both sides," asked members of the Friedrich and Meggyesy families in attendance to refrain from any outbursts.
In granting the request, Imbrogno said Friedrich, who had served a "sufficient portion of his sentence" and participated in programming to support rehabilitation, would be on a high level of supervision for five years following his release. His living arrangements must be approved by the board, and he is prohibited from having contact with any member of the Meggyesy family.
"I'm just glad he's coming home," said Friedrich's mother, Kathleen Young, with whom he will live upon release.
Of the decision, Holmes County Assistant Prosecutor Steve Knowling said, "I just think it's appalling. It's institutionally wrong. They made no attempt to explain the 180-degree change from July 2014 (when parole was denied) other than institutional movement. That appears to be the bottom line.
"We have no insight today of why he murdered Gayle Meggyesy than the day he was convicted," said Knowling, adding, "Twenty-nine years is not enough. In Ohio, you don't have a right to parole.
"It seems like the whole focus is on (Friedrich), not what's fair and just; not the victims," he said.
State Public Defender Andrew Hartman advocated for Friedrich's release, telling the board that after serving nearly 29 years, Friedrich was "suitable for release."
Friedrich has been a model inmate and "poses very little risk (to reoffend)," he said, adding, Friedrich has a strong plan for release and strong support from his family.
Friedrich continues to maintain his innocence and can, therefore, express no remorse for a crime he did not commit. He does, however, sympathize with the Meggyesy family, according to Hartman.
He understands their concern for their safety, but "harbors no ill will toward the family," the public defender said, adding, "He understands he was convicted, he understands their position and he maintains his innocence, but he has no intention of having contact with them."
Furthermore, Hartman said, Friedrich has indicated he has no intention of returning to Holmes County.
Addressing the board, Young said she has always believed in her son's innocence. He has a place to stay at her home in Columbia Station and a job waiting for him with family friend, Buren Rochford, who also asked the board to grant Friedrich's request for parole.
"I am prepared to help him in any way possible in getting him back to normal living," said Young, adding, "He's served time for a crime he didn't commit. Now that time is served, it is time for him to come home."
Joining Knowling in asking the board to deny parole were Meggyesy's former husband, Dennis, and daughter, Danielle, who was 12 when her mother was murdered.
The concept of Friedrich's release, they said, gave them concern for their own safety.
"Our right to live in safety should outweigh a criminal's right," said Dennis, who said half of him died with his wife.
But that wasn't the greatest pain, he said, explaining, "The worst part is seeing the pain and hurt of your children."
He said the family was further victimized by a defense strategy to "blame the victim," and his children were forced to endure the mean-spirited words and actions of a segment of the community that embraced that defense.
"It caused my kids unbelievable anguish," he said, adding, even 30 years later, some still refer to their home as the "witch house."
He asked the board to consider, "How are you going to guarantee he won't kill again?"
It was because of the way they were treated within the community, Danielle said, her family was never able to truly recover.
She described the two-year pretrial period, during which Friedrich was out on bond, as a time in which she was "terrified I and everyone I loved would be murdered too."
She said she and her two siblings suffered life-long damage as a consequence of their mother's murder.
"We know this man. John Friedrich chose to murder his friend and inflict pain and suffering on her family. We innocents have suffered the consequences. We stand to lose peace and stability."
Addressing the board, Knowling outlined the impact on the community. "Homicides are rare in Holmes County," so much so "I can remember them all in the last 30 years.
"This murder, back in 1986, was not just in the news, it was the news," he said, adding that without an admission or remorse, Friedrich leaves the board with "no idea what you're dealing with."
"The evidence in the record is you don't know what you have. No one knows what triggered this homicide. No one will know until he meets his next victim," said Knowling, noting, "For some reason only known to him, he walked into that kitchen to murder her. How can we be sure he won't do it again. Him being a model prisoner and a risk assessment have no relevance on whether release is fair or just.
"He shot her in the back and it blew into her heart and then, afterward, he shot her in between her eyes. The emphasis and focus should not be on him. The emphasis and focus should be on (the Meggyesy family) and our community. The fact he wants to meet his grandchildren, I find that offensive," he said. "We're all trying to do the right thing, it's not the right thing to do."
Questions by the board revolved around the evidence at trial and plea offers to Friedrich and jury instructions that may or may not have been made.
Noting he was not there to question the evidence or Friedrich's conviction, Hartman said simply, a jury found him not guilty of the more serious aggravated murder charge and guilty of murder. He said Friedrich has served 11 more years than the minimum and, having served 29 years, that is longer than many convicted of similar crimes.
"Mr. Knowling seems to think he should never be released. If the jury agreed with that, they would have found him guilty of the more serious form of the offense."
Reporter Christine Pratt can be reached at 330-674-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.