AKRON– Six months after walking out of prison after serving 14 years of a life sentence, Douglas Prade was back in court Thursday as prosecutors argued to have that decision overturned.
Prade was convicted in 1998 of murdering his wife, Dr. Margo Prade, who was found shot to death inside a minivan behind her office in November 1997.
Attorneys from the Ohio Innocence Project, along with attorneys from Jones Day, argued late last year that DNA samples collected from Dr. Prade’s lab coat excluded him as her killer.
The evidence was not available during his initial trial. Since then, more sensitive methods of testing were able to identify male DNA within the samples that were initially too small to find.
In January, Summit County Common Pleas Judge Judith Hunter ruled that no juror would have convicted Prade of the murder given the new evidence, ordered his release and declared him innocent.
Before a three-judge panel of the 9th circuit court of appeals in Akron on Thursday, attorneys from the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office argued that Judge Hunter erred in making that determination, insisting that the samples tested by Prade’s attorneys were contaminated and unreliable, what the court calls ‘abuse of discretion.’
Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh has already called the ruling a “gross misapplication of the law.”
“The state’s theory is that it is not a reliable test. It is not identifying the killer because of the large potential for contamination of some sort and we showed that at trial,” argued Assistant Summit County Prosecutor Richard Kasay.
Prosecutors argue that during trial the sample was handled by numerous people which, they say, explains why there is DNA there that was not found when the samples were tested in 1998.
“The female prosecutor, Judge McCarty taking that cutting out, touching it. We had another witness touching the inside of the flap where that cutting is coming out. We had Callahan, the FBI guy, speaking over it,” argued Kasay.
Assistant Summit County Prosecutor Brad Guessner explained to FOX 8 News that the sample was also sent to the jury room.
“The only piece they find something from is that piece that was handled multiple times from multiple people and sent back to the jury. How do we say that is evidence? If we came forward to say to the defense that was evidence to prove Doug Prade did it, they would be screaming off the top of the highest building,” said Guessner.
But defense attorney David Alden of Jones Day argued that by law the burden on Prade was to only provide reasonable doubt, and even though the DNA sample showed between two and five male profiles, not one of them belonged to Prade.
“The defendant has to show reasonable doubt. We showed reasonable doubt in spades. We showed you have male DNA over a biting killer in the most likely place to find DNA and that DNA is absolutely not Doug Prade’s. There’s no dispute about that and all four experts agree it is not Doug Prade’s,” said Alden.
Alden explained that the sample was taken from an area where the killer bit Dr. Prade on the arm, the most likely place to find any DNA from the person who killed her.
“The most likely explanation is that some of this DNA, which is all we need to show, is that some of this DNA is from the biting, slobbering killer. If that is the case, then Doug Prade is innocent, absolutely proven beyond a shadow of a doubt,” said Alden.
But Alden told FOX 8 News afterwards that although the sample could difinitively prove Prade did not kill his wife, it was not a large enough sample to positively identify anyone else.
The appeals court will next weigh the arguments and make a ruling that could either leave Prade a free man, return the case to common pleas court for a new trial, or send Prade back to prison to resume serving his life sentence.
If the court sides with Prade’s attorneys, prosecutors do have the ability to appeal.
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