By Ed Meyer
Beacon Journal staff writer
The most recent DNA tests of crime scene evidence exonerating Douglas Prade for the 1997 aggravated murder of his ex-wife, Dr. Margo Prade, are meaningless, prosecutors claim.
Prade, 67, was freed by a Summit County court order on the afternoon of Jan. 29, after serving nearly 15 years of a life sentence for the crime, but his case now is under review in Akron’s 9th District Court of Appeals.
The state, led by the arguments of Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh’s office, is seeking to return the former Akron police captain to prison through the appeal.
April Wiesner, Walsh’s chief spokesperson, said that in order to overturn the 1997 conviction, Ohio law required the court to find “clear and convincing evidence” of Prade’s innocence.
“That evidence does not exist,” Wiesner said. “The most recent DNA testing only shows that some of the evidence has been contaminated.”
The 9th District has yet to schedule oral arguments in the case, but all of the briefs have been filed with the court and Prade remains free.
He is living in Akron with family members, his attorneys said.
Last January, in the aftermath of four days of evidentiary hearings in Summit County Common Pleas Court, Judge Judy Hunter ruled that new, more sensitive DNA tests of a bite-mark impression found on the lab coat of Prade’s former wife excluded Douglas Prade as the contributor.
“The court is not unsympathetic to the family members, friends and community members who want to see justice for Dr. Prade. However, the evidence that [Douglas Prade] presented in this case,” Hunter wrote in her 26-page ruling, “is clear and convincing.”
According to the original Akron police investigation, the fatal shooting occurred inside Dr. Prade’s minivan on the morning before Thanksgiving.
Both sides always have agreed there was a violent struggle before the shots were fired, and that the killer bit Dr. Prade hard enough to leave an impression on the coat and bruising to her skin.
Walsh’s office, however, maintains that the 2012 DNA tests of that particular section of cloth from the lab coat, which formed the basis for Hunter’s declaration of innocence, were not reliable.
The DNA lab did find partial genetic profiles of several different men on the fabric, none of which were Douglas Prade’s, but prosecutors say that section of fabric was exposed to many people, including the jury, during his 1998 trial.
No saliva was found in those tests, and the DNA was at such low levels that experts from the state crime lab concluded the DNA was “most likely the result of contamination.”
Attorneys from the Ohio Innocence Project, who took up Prade’s case and helped pave the way for Hunter’s ruling, said Friday that the 2012 DNA tests results “clearly demonstrate Doug Prade’s innocence,” because his DNA was not found anywhere on the lab coat.
Mark Godsey, co-founder and director of the Innocence Project, said Hunter’s findings are “absolutely unassailable, and nothing in the state’s briefs demonstrate otherwise.”
“Mr. Prade is innocent and should remain in the arms of his family,” Godsey said, “and the state should use taxpayer dollars to find Margo’s killer and bring his daughters closure.”
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.