** UPDATE/CORRECTION: The Ohio Supreme Court has granted a stay, blocking the ruling to overturn Prade’s release. According to the Innocence Project, Prade remains free. It is unclear if a hearing set for April 4th is still scheduled. **
A state appeals court reversed a lower court’s decision that released Douglas Prade, a former Akron, Ohio police captain. In January of last year, Prade was released. He was convicted in 1998 of the murder of his ex-wife Margo outside her medical practice. He was sentenced to life. Common Pleas Court Judge Judy Hunter released Prade based upon new DNA evidence. In her ruling, she said that the test results on the victim’s lab coat, as well as the evidence from trial, excluded Prade and convinced her that no reasonable jury would convict Prade. The state appealed the decision. The Ohio 9th District Court of Appeals disagreed and said that Hunter abused her discretion.
The unanimous opinion stated: “Given the enormity of the evidence in support of Prade’s guilt and the fact that the meaningfulness of the DNA exclusion results is far from clear, this court cannot conclude that Prade set forth clear and convincing evidence of actual innocence…That is, we are not firmly convinced that…’no reasonable factfinder’ would have found (Prade) guilty. As such, it was an error for the trial court to grant Prade’s petition and to order his discharge…”
The court concluded the following:
- That the DNA results in Prade’s case caused more questions than answers.
- The State presented “a great deal” of other evidence (circumstantial) at trial.
- According to precedent, a jury is in the best position to weigh the evidence, i.e. especially evidence of domestic abuse.
- Without a doubt, Prade was excluded as a contributor of the DNA found on the bite mark section of the victim’s lab coat.
- The DNA results were odd because it is undisputed that there was only one killer, yet two unknown male profiles were found in the bite mark area.
- It is possible that the DNA evidence is contaminated.
- If none of the profiles from the bite mark area came from the killer, then excluding Prade is meaningless.
The defense plans to appeal the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court. In order to be considered exonerated in Ohio, an inmate must show “clear and convincing evidence of actual innocence” in order to overcome a jury’s finding of guilt. Prade’s attorneys also currently have a new trial motion pending before Judge Christine Croce, who replaced Hunter after she retired. Croce will decide whether to grant Prade a new trial or send him back to prison for life.
Margo Prade, 41, had been shot six times in 1997 as she entered her minivan after leaving her office. Prosecutors built a case that rested on Prade’s obsessive control over the victim, who divorced him 7 months before the murder. Authorities said that Prade illegally tapped her phones and videotaped her while she was in public. Witnesses testified that they saw him act abusive towards her.
“For almost 15 years, the bite mark section of Margo’s lab coat has been preserved and has endured exhaustive sampling and testing in the hopes of discovering the true identity of Margo’s killer,’’ the ruling said, “The only absolute conclusion that can be drawn from the DNA results, however, is that their true meaning will never be known…[an exclusive result] must be taken in context with all of the other ‘available admissible evidence’ related to this case.’’