Attorneys representing former Akron police Capt. Douglas Prade say they have new genetic tests that exclude him as the male source of DNA found on the lab coat of his murdered ex-wife, Dr. Margo Prade.
They argue that based on this evidence, Douglas Prade, convicted in September 1998 of aggravated murder, should be released from prison with the conviction cleared off his record — or at least receive a new trial.
The Summit County Prosecutor’s Office argues in a court filing the new evidence is “meaningless” and probably is the result of stray DNA from someone other than the killer, not proof that Prade is innocent.
State crime lab experts support the claim of prosecutors, writing in a report released last month that “the samples are not out-come determinative and likely represent background DNA due to casual transfer rather than a signature of the assailant . . .”
But to Prade attorneys, the findings are remarkable and proof of Douglas Prade’s innocence.
They say that few dispute that Dr. Prade was bitten through her lab coat, under her arm, during the attack; that her ex-husband’s DNA is not there proves someone else killed the popular physician.
The DNA present is a partial profile than can easily exclude contributors, but not necessarily identify the actual person.
David Alden, an attorney with Jones Day in Cleveland, said the state’s claim that the newly found DNA derives from potential contamination or inadvertent touching is almost desperate.
“Their contamination argument to me is not surprising or to me very persuasive,” Alden said Thursday. “[But] this is where the killer left his bite mark and the notion that you would find one, maybe two males there and not the killer is crazy.”
A hearing to determine if Prade should be freed, receive a new trial or remain in prison is scheduled for Aug. 21 before Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter. Prade’s attorneys, however, have a scheduling conflict with their experts and have asked for a three-week delay. No new date has been announced.
A medical assistant found Margo Prade, 41, slumped behind the wheel of her van in her office parking lot on Wooster Avenue on the morning before Thanksgiving in 1997.
Following his conviction, Douglas Prade was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 26 years. Now 66, he is assigned to the Madison Correctional Institution in London, Ohio. He has always maintained his innocence.
Jones Day and the Ohio Innocence Project have donated their time to provide Prade with attorneys.
Cloth from lab coat
The Ohio Supreme Court opened the door for new testing in 2010, sending the case back to Summit County Common Pleas Court to decide whether new testing could detect information a previous DNA test could not.
At issue during the upcoming hearing will be a circular 2-inch by 3-inch swatch cut from Dr. Prade’s lab coat shortly after her death. The cloth is where the killer is believed to have bitten her during a struggle in which she was shot six times.
Prosecutors had an FBI laboratory test the area of Dr. Prade’s lab coat for DNA in 1998. Only her profile was found because bleeding on the lab coat had overwhelmed any traces of the killer’s DNA that might have been embedded in the bite. A second test, done by Prade’s trial attorneys, showed the same results.
The cloth has since sat in storage until this year.
The new test, performed for Prade at no cost by the Fairfield, Ohio, DNA Diagnostics Center, found male DNA on the lab coat over the site of the bite mark that could not belong to Douglas Prade.
The profile comes from another man, according to the results. However, the partial profile is too small for use in determining the actual source.
“There’s no doubt about the exclusion,” Alden said. “You need a lot more to include [a contributor], you don’t need much to exclude. Doug is out of all of this. It ain’t him.”
Prosecutors declined to speak specifically on the DNA evidence on Thursday. However, in court papers, they point out that no one knows the origin of the new DNA. It could have been left inadvertently, possibly by one of Dr. Prade’s patients or by handling during trial, they contend.
In court papers, they also argued other evidence of Prade’s guilt: his obsessive behavior before and after the divorce that includes wiretapping her phone and hiring a private investigator to follow his ex-wife; his scribbling of debts on a bank slip and subtracting Dr. Prade’s $75,000 insurance proceeds before her death; two eyewitnesses who saw him before and after the killing; a failed polygraph exam and a weak alibi.
“No one in my office wants to see an innocent person behind bars,” Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh said in a statement. “We requested extensive DNA testing well beyond what the Innocence Project requested, and we have carefully reviewed all of the available evidence.
“There is no new evidence that proves Mr. Prade’s claim of innocence. The jury’s verdict should not be overturned.”