A Summit County judge who this morning exonerated a former Akron police captain in the shooting death of his former wife in 1997 said that based on her review of DNA evidence no reasonable juror could convict Douglas Prade.
A Summit County judge’s ruling exonerating a former Akron police captain in the murder of his former wife is drawing criticism from those who investigated and prosecuted him in 1998.
Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh said she plans to appeal the ruling issued this morning.
“This is a gross misapplication of the law, and we will be appealing,” a written statement from Bevan Walsh said. “The DNA evidence presented by the Ohio Innocence Project on behalf of Prade is contaminated and unreliable. It does not prove innocence.”
Akron Police Chief James Nice also believes the judge came to the wrong conclusion. “All of the evidence clearly points to Prade as Dr. Margo Prade’s killer. He was proven guilty in front a jury using a substantial amount of other evidence.”
Douglas Prade, 66, has been serving a life sentence for the murder of Margo Prade, a physician who was gunned down near her office.
After years of declaring his innocence, Prade finally won DNA testing of the lab coat his former wife was wearing when killed and of a bite mark the killer left.
In her 25-page ruling issued today, Common Pleas Judge Judy L. Hunter wrote that she fully supports Prade's position that the DNA testing proves he wasn't the killer and granted his request to be released from prison.
“The court concludes . . . that defendant is actually innocent of aggravated murder,” Hunter wrote. “The testing is not unsympathetic to the family members, friends, and community who want to see justice for Dr. Prade.
However, the evidence that the defendant presented in this case is clear and convincing. Based on the review of the conclusive DNA test results and the evidence from the 1998 trial, the court is firmly convinced that no reasonable juror would convict the defendant.”
The Summit County prosecutor and Prade’s attorneys could not be reached for comment.
Prade was found guilty of shooting Mrs. Prade six times after a struggle in her van in a parking lot outside of her office the day before Thanksgiving in 1997.
The couple, who had two children, divorced seven months earlier after a 17-year marriage. Margo was 41 at the time of her death.
Key to his conviction in 1998 was a bite mark found on Mrs. Prade. During his trial, an expert testified that the bite mark matched Prade's teeth.
But Prade and his attorneys have argued that the bite mark testimony was based on "junk science," and that it misled the jury in a case that had received national attention. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Prade has maintained his innocence and in 2004, applied for a DNA test. But his request was denied under an old Ohio law that routinely prevented judges from granting inmates testing.
In 2008, his case was highlighted in the Dispatch series "Test of Convictions," which exposed Ohio's flawed evidence-retention and DNA-testing systems and is available here.
The Dispatch reviewed more than 300 cases with the Ohio Innocence Project and highlighted 30 inmates as prime candidates for testing including Prade.
As part of the project, attorneys for the Innocence Project then filed Prade's request for DNA testing, which was granted in the fall of 2010.
The DNA testing, conducted by DNA Diagnostics Center of Fairfield, north of Cincinnati, focused on the lab coat that Mrs. Prade was wearing during the attack, and specifically a bite mark left on her arm by her killer.
Testing results found male DNA present within the bite mark, but it didn't match Douglas Prade. Further testing of the lab coat and other evidence conducted by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation also excluded Prade's DNA.
In October, the results were presented to the judge during a four-day hearing, which led to this morning’s ruling.