Bite mark analysis classified as “consistent” with Douglas Prade at his 1998 murder trial now would be considered “inconclusive” under the latest national forensic standards, an independent dental expert testified Wednesday.
The 1998 classification was only an opinion by Dr. Lowell Levine, one of the nation’s leading experts on such forensic evidence.
Levine told Prade’s jury he was hesitant to definitively link the bite mark to the former Akron police captain with “reasonable scientific certainty” — the acceptable legal standard under Ohio law.
At Wednesday’s hearing to determine if Prade wins a new trial for the murder of his ex-wife, Dr. Margo Prade, however, state’s witness Franklin D. Wright said Levine’s classification no longer is used under five standards of the American Board of Forensic Odontology.
The standards the board now uses classify such evidence as coming from: (1) the biter, (2) the probable biter, (3) not excluding the biter, (4) excluding the biter or (5) inconclusive.
“If the best I could do is say it’s ‘consistent,’ ” Wright said, referring to Levine’s opinion, “I would [now] say it’s ‘inconclusive.’ ”
Wright gave his testimony under cross examination by Prade’s lead defense counsel on the fourth and final day of hearings before Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter.
Testimony from both sides was so voluminous, court reporter Terri Sims told the attorneys it will require some 1,200 pages of official court transcripts.
Hunter, who also has the authority to exonerate Prade or to allow his conviction to stand, said she will take the matter under advisement and issue a written ruling. There is no timetable, but her decision is not expected until December.
Hunter set a Dec. 3 deadline for both sides to submit briefs on testimony from these hearings.
On the morning before Thanksgiving in 1997, Dr. Prade was shot six times as she sat behind the wheel of her van in her Wooster Avenue office’s parking lot. Akron police determined there was a struggle with the killer inside the van, and the trial evidence showed there was a bite mark near the left armpit of her lab coat.
Bite mark evidence now is best used, Wright told Hunter, as “adjunctive evidence” — as only part of the total body of evidence in a criminal case.
“I would be very uncomfortable — and in fact I have refused to testify in some bite mark cases — where it was the only evidence,” Wright said.
He is a practicing dentist from Cincinnati, a bite mark consultant for the Hamilton County coroner and an authority on the national forensic board.
In previous testimony, two defense DNA experts told Hunter that unidentified male profiles were found in two samples of fabric cut from the bite mark area of the lab coat, using the most advanced DNA testing methods. Both samples excluded Douglas Prade.
Wright, who was called by the state to cast doubt on earlier defense testimony, was questioned further by Summit Assistant Prosecutor Brad Gessner, head of the agency’s criminal division.
Using Wright’s view that bite mark evidence is subjective and should not be used alone to identify a perpetrator, Gessner pointed out that Prade’s conviction also was based on eyewitness testimony, police and medical examiner testimony about the struggle, wiretapping, the stalking of Dr. Prade after a divorce, confrontations with her and a written list of debts related to her $75,000 life insurance policy.
With that backdrop, Gessner asked Wright if bite mark evidence then would be an acceptable part of the complete body of evidence in this case.
Wright said it would.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.