LONDON, OHIO: He still has the bearing of a police commander and the charismatic voice of a seasoned public speaker, despite spending the past 11 years in a state penitentiary.
It is only when Douglas Prade begins talking about the woman who has believed in him for all those years — his sister, Caralynn Prade, a legal secretary from Pearland, Texas — that his voice begins to crack and tears fill his eyes.
''She has done everything for me in this case . . . everything . . . and it's just amazing,'' he said, barely able to get out the words during an interview at Madison Correctional Institution.
Douglas Evans Prade, now 63, said his sister has never wavered in her belief that he was wrongfully convicted of the murder of his ex-wife, Dr. Margo Prade, on the morning before Thanksgiving in 1997.
Next month, the case will be running on a more powerful level than brother-sister emotions.
It is scheduled for oral arguments before the Ohio Supreme Court on Prade's claim that the newest DNA testing methods used in the analysis of bite-mark evidence might reveal the killer's identity.
Prosecutors tied Prade to the bite mark in his 1998 trial primarily with the testimony of Dr. Thomas Marshall, a retired Akron dentist. Using photographs of the bite mark and comparing those to dental impressions of Prade's teeth, Marshall testified that the bite mark was Prade's.
He told the jury: ''Every mark lined up with every'' one of Prade's lower-front teeth.
Marshall's testimony, however, had nothing to do with the science of testing the bite mark for the killer's DNA.
The high court — with the exception of Justice Maureen O'Connor, who was Summit County prosecutor at the time of Prade's trial — will hear arguments Dec. 16.
''My prayer is — which I believe I have said and whispered every day, as it always has been since the start of this case — that the truth be brought to light,'' Caralynn Prade wrote in an e-mail response to questions from the Beacon Journal.
The appeal has two heavyweight legal organizations defending Prade, who was an Akron police captain with 29 years of service before the murder.
Barry Scheck's Innocence Network in New York City submitted a lengthy argument stating that the latest DNA technology should be used to test the bite mark for the killer's DNA. An attorney from the Jones Day law firm of Cleveland will argue that point to the justices in Columbus.
As authorities on wrongful convictions, Scheck and partner Peter Neufeld are members of the New York State Commission on Forensic Science and are regularly consulted in high-profile cases by officials at the state, local and federal levels.
Their pro bono efforts as defense counsel in post-conviction DNA testing cases have ''to date, exonerated over 200 innocent persons,'' according to the brief filed in Prade's case.
More than half of the 200 exonerations involved errors in forensic testing of evidence, including bite-mark analysis, the brief states.
In broad daylight, Margo Prade, 41, an Akron doctor with a thriving family practice, was found by her medical assistant slumped behind the wheel of her van in her office parking lot on Wooster Avenue at 10:25 a.m.
Bleeding was extensive from six gunshot wounds, the autopsy revealed.
The police investigation determined there was a struggle inside the van before the shooting.
Evidence of the struggle was a bite mark on Margo Prade's left inner arm and buttons torn from her lab coat.
Douglas Prade, after a lengthy trial, was convicted in September 1998 of all charges in his indictment: aggravated murder, six counts of wiretapping and one count of possession of criminal tools.
Moments before Common Pleas Judge Mary Spicer, now retired, sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 26 years, Prade turned his back to the bench and addressed the spectators in the packed courtroom.
''I didn't do this,'' he said flatly. ''I am an innocent convicted person. God, myself, Margo and the person who killed Margo all know I'm innocent.''
As he did that day, Prade spoke calmly and to the point in his hourlong prison interview for this article.
Never wavering from his statements made more than a decade ago, he said, once again, that he did not kill his ex-wife and that the police investigators and prosecutors ''screwed up'' by pressing the case against him.
Prade said, again, that he was in the workout room at his Copley Township condominium complex when his ex-wife was shot.
Trial testimony established that there were security cameras at an auto dealership next to the murder scene. The cameras, equipped with videotape that was used and reused, showed a shadowy figure walking to Dr. Prade's van and entering it at 9:10 a.m.
A minute and a half later, the figure left he van, returned to a light-colored car and left the medical office parking lot.
Police never identified the person in the video and never found the light-colored car.
Prade said the early work of his sister, Caralynn, eventually led to a frame-by-frame analysis — called photogrammetry — of the shadowy figure by former NASA aerospace engineer and Ph.D. Charles S. Palm.
Palm's analysis focused on the position of the shadowy figure at the passenger door, Prade said, and showed the suspect was between 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-9.
''And I'm 6-foot-3,'' Prade said.
That video, along with the DNA bite-mark evidence that his defense hopes to find, Prade said, will prove his innocence.
''I'm not stupid. I'm not going to ask them to look for DNA if my DNA is there, or to look with more technical equipment at this video if that's going to show me in the video, which I know it's not,'' Prade said. ''I've been asking for this for 11 years.''
But why should anyone believe him when the jury, in one of Akron's most notorious and widely publicized murder cases, convicted him of all charges?
''Twenty-nine years I spent working a job where my integrity meant something, and I've never been known as a liar. That's the beginning,'' Prade said.
''And No. 2, I wouldn't be asking for DNA testing if they were going to find my DNA. It just doesn't make sense for me to do that.''
Prade said his sister also made early contacts with the Ohio Innocence Project in Cincinnati, which, in turn, was instrumental in bringing in Jones Day and Scheck's Innocence Network.
New DNA technology
Despite the availability of DNA testing at the time of the murder, the defense brief emphasizes that those tests were unable to provide any evidence ''as to [the] killer's identity.''
Dr. Prade's killer, the brief explains, ''bit her forearm with enough force to leave a mark on her skin through two layers of clothing — her lab coat and blouse.''
''However, according to the state's DNA expert, it was impossible to isolate and identify any DNA left by the perpetrator using the then-available DNA forensic technology, because the bite area was covered with Dr. Prade's blood,'' the brief states.
Jones Day attorney David Booth Alden, who will argue Prade's case before the high court, said the newest technology can identify the tiniest amount of male DNA, even when it is mixed with large amounts of female DNA, as was the case with the lab coat.
''Where the state's case was built around this being a bite mark by the killer,'' Alden said, ''if you were to find and identify male DNA in the bite mark that was not [Doug Prade's], or even better, identifies someone else's DNA, that's a game changer.
''I think that's the kind of thing that would reverse convictions, and it has. Your own county had the same thing happen with Clarence Elkins. I mean, Clarence Elkins was [arrested] in the same year as Doug Prade.''
Elkins, now 46, spent nearly eight years in prison, wrongly convicted of the 1998 murder of his mother-in-law.
New DNA evidence in his case, which came to light through the investigative efforts of his former wife, Melissa Elkins, vindicated him and pointed to another man.
The killer, Earl Gene Mann, pleaded guilty in August 2008 and was sentenced to life in prison.
Alden called Summit County's opposition to new DNA testing in Prade's case ''insane.''
''I mean, why?'' he asked. ''They've already spent more money opposing [our] motion than they would have by doing the testing.''
'Classic murder case'
Mary Ann Kovach, chief legal counsel for Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh, said if new DNA tests ''would definitely tell us who did it, we'd be the first people to agree to have the testing done.''
Kovach said prosecution experts have indicated that DNA from saliva — the evidence that the defense is looking for in the bite mark — cannot be separated from other DNA in this case.
Kovach also said that the most compelling evidence leading to Prade's conviction, in the first place, had nothing to do with DNA.
And that, she said, was the reasoning cited in February, when Akron's 9th District Court of Appeals denied Prade's request for new DNA testing.
According to the unanimous opinion by the three-judge panel, Prade was convicted largely on the basis of evidence unrelated to DNA.
In making that point, Kovach stressed Prade's convictions on six counts of wiretapping and the number of shots fired by the killer inside the van.
The Prades were divorced in April 1997 after 18 years of marriage. The couple had two daughters together.
Prosecutors at the trial hammered away at the theory that Prade was electronically stalking his ex-wife and killed her because he had lost control over her.
''I think that's what the jury went on, clearly,'' Kovach said.
She called it a classic murder case involving domestic violence.
''He was very possessive of her, and he had to know, through the wiretapping that he was doing, that she had a new relationship and she was about to announce her engagement to a lawyer in Columbus that she was seeing,'' Kovach said.
''I think in Prade's mind, their relationship hadn't ended. Usually, when there are multiple shots like this, it's an indication of anger, resentment, frustration, lack of control — all of the signs of a stalker or a person involved in domestic violence exerting dominance . . . over the victim.''
Former Assistant Summit County Prosecutor Mike Carroll, now in retirement, was co-counsel in Prade's trial. ''We got the right man, and we didn't screw it up,'' he said.
''The evidence is so compelling, and it's not based on DNA. When you look at the wiretapping he did . . . and all the things he told people about how much he hated her, that's pretty good evidence in total. The verdict came back in two or three hours after a lengthy trial, so there wasn't much issue with the jurors.''
Evidence piles up
Attorneys from both sides at Prade's trial called 52 witnesses in 12 days of testimony and offered 243 pieces of evidence in a case ''based almost solely on circumstantial evidence that was so compelling, jurors needed only four hours to return a guilty verdict,'' the Beacon Journal's 1998 story stated.
Caralynn Prade, however, said she sat through the entire trial and cannot understand why Summit County has so strongly resisted new DNA testing for all these years.
''Why not let somebody test the DNA? Why not? There has to be DNA in a bite mark,'' she said.
She also disputed the prosecution theory that her brother lost control when he realized he was about to lose his ex-wife and their two daughters to another man.
''I undoubtedly, without a smidgen of doubt, believe in Douglas' innocence. He would not have been capable of hurting his daughters' mother,'' she said.
Prade's two daughters, now in their 20s — one is a nurse in St. Louis, the other an aspiring singer in Los Angeles — exchange letters with him frequently, he said.
They were the focus of his last words in his prison interview before corrections officials led him back to his compound.
Prade said he has challenged the system for new DNA testing for so long ''because I need to get this baggage out of their lives.''
''I don't want my kids to go through the rest of their lives thinking I killed their mother,'' he said.
''And Margo, she deserves better. She deserves justice, because they screwed it up.''
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.