One woman knows what she saw from the witness stand in 1998.
To this day, she remains convinced that former Akron police Capt. Douglas Prade killed his ex-wife.
Another former juror from the case, however, now feels “justice has been served” with Prade’s release from prison.
In the aftermath of last month’s Summit County court order that freed Prade and exonerated him in the slaying of Dr. Margo Prade, the Beacon Journal attempted to reach the 12 jurors and four alternates from his trial for comment on Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter’s stunning decision.
That decision, after four days of evidentiary hearings in Hunter’s court in October, was based on new analysis of male DNA profiles found in the bite-mark evidence — a much more sophisticated analysis than was scientifically possible when the crime occurred.
Two of the former jurors agreed to speak on the record. Others could not be reached or declined to comment. In some cases, others who spoke for members of the original panel said age and illness had affected their memories of the trial.
Stands by verdict
The killer left a bite mark on her left arm, according to evidence never in dispute since the day Margo Prade was shot to death in 1997.
Only the bottom teeth made an imprint.
Stow resident Anne Lapuh cannot shake the images of the bite-mark evidence, she says, because forensic dental impressions of the captain’s teeth fit into place perfectly.
Recalling in precise detail what she saw in trial testimony, Lapuh said the doctor’s lab coat was “starched very stiffly, and that bite mark had his bottom teeth imprinted in it.”
Prosecutors had presented dental impressions of Douglas Prade’s lower teeth, “and the image of his teeth fit right in,” Lapuh said. “He had crooked teeth and they fit right in, like a little puzzle. And it was just so exact.
“Sitting there on that jury,” Lapuh said firmly, recalling the images from more than 14 years ago, “you know what you saw.”
In last October’s hearings before Judge Hunter, two forensic scientists testified for hours on Prade’s behalf. Both said his DNA profile was excluded in the latest tests of the bite-mark evidence.
Hunter’s ruling called the expert testimony “clear and convincing” evidence that Prade is “actually innocent of aggravated murder.”
Lapuh says she is not convinced.
In a Beacon Journal interview this month, she said flatly: “I can’t get past the bite mark. I know they have DNA, but how accurate is the test? I know DNA is accurate, accurate, but it has been a long time.
“If he really did not do it, then good, I’m glad he’s free. But I really think he did it,” Lapuh said. “I mean, who else would have done it?”
Thrilled with exoneration
Akron resident Elizabeth A. Feeney, the only other member of the original Prade jury panel to discuss the trial and exoneration, said she was “absolutely thrilled” when she heard the Jan. 29 news of Hunter’s order.
“Yes, I was, and I am,” Feeney told the Beacon Journal. “I will tell anybody who will listen that I am absolutely thrilled for him and his family, and everyone involved, that he is a free man. And I hope he stays that way.”
Feeney, a retired faculty member at Southern Ohio College in the graduate placement department, recalled her thoughts in the days before opening statements at Prade’s trial, Sept. 1, 1998.
“First of all, I don’t think that his case was a slam dunk going in, although I feel a lot of people did, including the media. A lot of people just had him tried and convicted before he even went to trial,” Feeney said.
“At the trial, I didn’t think it was a slam dunk there, either, although with the evidence that was presented, and the way it was presented,” she said, “it was very difficult to move beyond a reasonable doubt that he did it.
“Believe me, I tried. I tried very hard. But it was very difficult. Even though the evidence was circumstantial, I think the jury had no other choice but the conviction.”
Despite the jury’s ultimate finding, Feeney recalls also holding this observation:
“I did wonder why an intelligent man would be running across the parking lot in broad daylight, as large as he is, to commit that crime.”
Feeney was referring to findings from the original Akron police investigation.
Margo Prade was shot inside her minivan at 9:10 a.m. on the morning before Thanksgiving Day. Security cameras at a nearby car dealership captured a mostly shadowy figure entering the van’s passenger side door at that precise time.
The shadowy figure, based on the height of the van’s roof from the pavement, appeared considerably shorter than Douglas Prade’s 6-foot-3 stature.
The former police captain repeatedly emphasized this crime-scene detail in maintaining his innocence.
Feeney also cited its importance in her feelings about his exoneration.
“I feel, now, with the new evidence that’s come into play, such as the DNA, the people who worked so hard on the case, the fact that the video that we the jury had was not really clear enough to show the height of the person, I feel, yes, justice has been served.”
Skeptical about findings
Former Summit Assistant Prosecutor Mike Carroll, now retired, was “first chair” in the state’s case against Prade.
Carroll said preparation for the trial required 10 to 12 hours of work per day, studying the case evidence with fellow prosecutors, Akron detectives and the FBI’s criminal Behavioral Analysis Unit in Quantico, Va.
In a Beacon Journal interview the day after Hunter’s order releasing Prade, Carroll said he was skeptical about the new DNA findings being so conclusive.
“We tried like hell to do as much DNA testing as we could, especially around that bite mark, and I don’t know how anyone can say that any DNA on the lab coat is the result of a bite, as opposed to anything else,” Carroll said.
“Certainly it could be a bite. It could be one of her patients at the hospital. It could be from the time they found her [in the van]. It could be afterward,” he said.
“We tried like crazy to come up with amylase, which is indicative of saliva, and we couldn’t even do that.”
Aside from the DNA findings, Carroll said he always has felt Prade’s extensive wiretapping of his ex-wife “was telling” in his examination of the evidence.
“I don’t know how many former husbands or former boyfriends wiretap. But that’s a pretty extreme measure,” Carroll said.
Many friends of Margo Prade, he noted, also testified that Douglas had threatened her “for I don’t know how long.”
Those case elements also were important to the two jurors who spoke to the Beacon Journal — on the theory that if Douglas Prade didn’t kill his ex-wife, then who did?
Carroll said the jury heard a full day and a half of evidence from playing the wiretapping tapes. He said that to this day, he does not know when Douglas Prade began his wiretapping.
“We had what we recovered. Whether there were a lot of tapes before, or a lot after,” Carroll said, “we never knew.”
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.