A blue physician’s identification tag bearing the name Dr. Margo S. Prade is worn like a badge on the coat lapel of her big sister.
Veronica Sadler of Akron often appears in court with it, as she did Monday in a hearing to determine whether the man convicted of her sister’s 1997 shooting death, former Akron police Capt. Douglas Prade, the doctor’s ex-husband, deserves a new trial.
The court-ordered hearing continues this morning before Summit County Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter, with both the defense and prosecution expected to present conflicting views about the meaning of the latest DNA test results of crime-scene evidence.
Douglas Prade’s lead defense counsel, David B. Alden of the Jones Day law firm in Cleveland, began Monday’s hearing with a lengthy analysis of forensic evidence by DNA scientist Dr. Rick W. Staub.
An expert in the field of genetics, Staub testified that sophisticated testing of several sections of bite mark evidence from the fabric of Margo Prade’s blood-stained lab coat excluded the DNA profile of the former police commander as the contributor.
Douglas Prade, therefore, could not have been the killer, Alden said after Staub left the stand.
Before he did, Margo Prade’s lab coat was shown on a big-screen courtroom television monitor to enable the judge, at Staub’s direction, to see the sections of the garment from where the male DNA samples were extracted using the latest technology.
It was the first time, nearly 15 years after her sister’s slaying, that Veronica Sadler had seen the garment.
And it hurt, she said during a break in the proceedings.
“My mind is just going from one thing to the next,” Sadler said Monday afternoon.
She spoke in court about it, quietly, to Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Mary Ann Kovach after the heavily stained coat was displayed on the monitor.
“I cannot imagine how you must feel to see this resurrected after 14 years,” Kovach told her.
Sadler said she harbors no hatred toward Douglas Prade, but did not feel Monday’s DNA revelations dramatically changed anything about the case. She still feels Douglas Prade committed the crime, she said.
“Oh, yes, no one else had a reason,” Sadler said.
A little more than an hour before the 1997 shooting, which occurred on the morning before Thanksgiving in the doctor’s office parking lot on Wooster Avenue, Sadler said Douglas Prade went to Akron General Medical Center, where her sister was in the middle of her daily rounds with patients, and had a heated argument with her.
Nurses heard it, she said.
“Douglas was really carrying on,” Sadler said. He was extremely upset, she said, that he was not going to be invited for Thanksgiving dinner at the West Akron home where the ex-couple once lived.
Douglas and Margo Prade had been married for 18 years before their divorce, and they had two daughters, now in their 20s, together.
Margo Prade, at the time, had a serious boyfriend, Timothy Holston, an attorney from Columbus. Staub told Hunter on Monday that Holston’s DNA profile also was excluded as a contributor of the bite mark evidence.
Margo Prade’s autopsy results showed she was shot six times behind the wheel of her van. Police determined there was a violent struggle with the killer inside the van only moments before.
Court documents in the case, which were reviewed in national television specials by NBC in 2000 and by HBO in 1999, show prosecutors long have suspected there was other compelling evidence of Douglas Prade’s guilt.
They say his obsessive actions before and after the divorce included wiretapping the doctor’s phone, hiring a private investigator to follow her and allegedly counting on proceeds from her $75,000 insurance policy to cover debts.
Kovach, chief legal counsel for Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh, argued in Monday’s hearing that the exclusionary DNA profiles in the bite mark evidence could have been contaminated or transferred from the doctor’s many male patients, or from jurors who viewed the evidence at the 1998 trial, or even from its handling during the years of DNA laboratory testing procedures.
“If it’s contaminated,” Kovach said outside of court, “excluding Prade is meaningless. It means that the killer never left anything there.”
But Prade’s defense team went to considerable lengths to cast doubt on that theory.
Alden said he felt one of Dr. Staub’s most important points was that the state crime lab, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, looked elsewhere on the lab coat, expressly for contamination, “and found zero,” Alden said.
In today’s hearing before Hunter, prosecutors are expected to call their own forensic dental specialist, Dr. Franklin D. Wright of Cincinnati, to give his views of the controversial bite mark evidence.
Hunter will decide the issue, with three options.
She could grant Prade a new trial, issue an exoneration order based on the latest DNA evidence or allow his murder conviction to stand on grounds that the weight of such evidence does not merit overturning the jury’s 1998 guilty verdict.
Two attorneys from the Ohio Innocence Project, based in Cincinnati, are assisting on Prade’s defense.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.