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Judge exonerates Prade in ex-wife’s murder

1/31/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

New evidence in slaying cited as reason; former police captain freed as state appeals ruling

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Douglas Prade, the former Akron police captain who was convicted of killing his physician ex-wife, was released from prison Jan. 29 after a ruling was made based on new evaluations of evidence in the case.

In the decision from Summit County Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter released that day, Hunter said she determined that newer DNA testing not available at the time Douglas Prade went to trial has eliminated him as a possible suspect in the fatal shooting of Dr. Margo Prade in 1997.

“The court is not unsympathetic to  the family members, friends and community who want to see justice for Dr. Prade,” Hunter wrote. “However, the evidence that the defendant presented in this case is clear and convincing. Based on the review of the conclusive Y-STR DNA test results and the evidence from the 1998 trial, the court is firmly convinced that no reasonable juror would convict the defendant for the crime of aggravated murder with a firearm. The court concludes as a matter of law that the defendant is actually innocent of aggravated murder. As such, the court overturns the defendant’s convictions … and he shall be discharged from prison forthwith.”

Investigators had determined that Margo Prade was bitten as part of the attack on her. DNA tests of the fabric from the area of the bite were cited in the new ruling.

Shortly after the ruling was released, Summit County Prosecutor Sherry Bevan Walsh released a statement expressing her disagreement with Hunter’s ruling.

“This is a gross misapplication of the law, and we will be appealing Prade’s exoneration,” Walsh said. “The defendant had to present new evidence so convincing that no juror would have found him guilty, and he failed to do so. The DNA evidence presented by the Ohio Innocence Project on behalf of Prade is contaminated and unreliable. It does not prove innocence.”

Walsh’s office noted that the 9th District Court of Appeals must consider the state’s appeal. If the appeals court reverses Hunter’s ruling, then the state has 30 days to file a motion in the appeals court requesting permission to appeal the decision for a new trial. The Court of Appeals may take several weeks to decide whether to hear the appeal, Walsh said.

The decision to release Prade, who is now 66, after nearly 15 years in prison was also met with dismay by Akron Police Chief James Nice.

“We are disappointed in Judge Hunter’s opinion exonerating Doug Prade,” Nice said. “All of the evidence clearly points to Prade as Dr. Margo Prade’s killer. He was proven guilty in front of a jury using a substantial amount of other evidence.”

Margo Prade was shot to death outside her Vernon Odom Boulevard medical office on the morning of Nov. 26, 1997. Her ex-husband Douglas Prade was convicted of her murder after a jury found him guilty in 1998, and he was sentenced to life in prison.

Since that time, Douglas Prade’s legal team has pursued appeals that have been denied. Several years ago, his case was taken on by the Ohio Innocence Project, based at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, and the new DNA testing was done on samples of the lab coat Margo Prade was wearing when she was killed.

This past October, Hunter heard four days of expert testimony relating to the new evidence. In addition, she heard from experts about the reliability of bite-mark evidence and two eyewitnesses who came forward several months after the murder. She said she also looked at other circumstantial evidence, such as the state of the relationship between the Prades at the time of the murder, Douglas Prade’s alibi and possible financial motives for the murder.

The motion further stated that if the appeals court overturns Hunter decision, the motion for a new trial for Prade is granted.

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