A Summit County judge has granted former Akron police Capt. Douglas Prade's request for new DNA tests of forensic evidence in the 1997 murder of his ex-wife, Dr. Margo Prade.
Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter issued a written decision Thursday acting on an Ohio Supreme Court order in May that sent the issue back to Summit County to decide whether new DNA testing methods could detect information that previous tests could not.
Hunter's 14-page decision stated she was granting the tests ''in the interest of justice.''
Douglas Prade's lead attorney, David B. Alden of the Cleveland firm Jones Day, said he was ''relieved'' by the decision and that ''the right result finally occurred.''
''This is a situation where the [state] statute clearly contemplates that testing should go forward,'' Alden said.
''It's a set of facts where, if there is a plausible argument that the guy didn't do it and he can prove that, my gosh, why wouldn't we look? It's disappointing that it took this long, but I'm glad the system finally worked.''
Hunter's order, in its entirety, can be viewed on Ohio.com by clicking on the story about the decision.
The judge's decision stated that ''several pieces of biological material taken from the crime scene and victim remain available for [new] DNA testing,'' and it directed the Summit County Prosecutor's Office, within 45 days, to complete a search for any additional biological material collected during the 1990s investigation by Akron police.
The new DNA tests of that material will be done by the DNA Diagnostics
Center in Fairfield, Ohio, as previously agreed upon by both sides, at no cost to state taxpayers, Hunter's order stated.
Mary Ann Kovach, chief legal counsel for Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh, said in a statement that the agency respects the court's order and appreciates Hunter's ''thorough review of this important case.''
''We will fully comply by immediately beginning to gather the needed materials and turning them over to the designated laboratory,'' Kovach said.
Sister seeks justice
Douglas Prade's sister, Caralynn Prade, a legal secretary at a Texas law firm, commented on the decision in an e-mail to the newspaper.
''On behalf of my family and myself, we thank Judge Hunter for her time, consideration and decision. With the evolution of technology, DNA testing should be made available to all persons where DNA exists. Douglas deserves this opportunity and we will continue to pray for justice,'' Caralynn Prade said.
In one of Akron's most notorious murder cases, Douglas Prade was convicted of the slaying in a 1998 jury trial that brought nationwide publicity to the case and the city.
The crime was reviewed in television specials by NBC in 2000 and by HBO in 1999.
Prade, now 64, was sentenced to prison for 20 years to life for aggravated murder, multiple counts of wiretapping and possession of criminal tools.
He is behind bars at Madison Correctional Institution.
Autopsy results showed that Margo Prade was shot six times behind the wheel of her van in her office parking lot on Wooster Avenue on the morning before Thanksgiving in 1997.
The issue addressed by the high court involved a bite mark apparently left by the killer on Dr. Prade's left arm — through her lab coat and blouse — as she was trying to defend herself moments before the shooting.
At the time of the 1998 trial, only Dr. Prade's DNA profile was identified in the bite-mark evidence. Bleeding on the lab coat, Alden said in his arguments before the high court last December, had overwhelmed any traces of DNA the perpetrator might have embedded in the bite.
Judge notes methods
However, Hunter said in her decision that new DNA testing methods ''minimize the concern that Dr. Prade's blood on her lab coat overwhelmed or diluted any trace amounts of the biter's own DNA.''
Hunter said near the conclusion of the decision that she was ''not opining on Prade's innocence or guilt of aggravated murder.''
But if the new tests of the bite mark evidence exclude Prade as the contributor, Hunter said such an exclusion ''compromises the foundation of the state's case.''
''Without the key evidence, the state's remaining evidence — entirely circumstantial — is insufficient to support inferences necessary for a murder conviction. Thus, a strong probability exists that no reasonable juror would find the defendant guilty of aggravated murder,'' Hunter wrote.
The judge identified the evidence to be tested as six swatches of material from the arm of Dr. Prade's lab coat, buttons from her lab coat, four cheek swabs, two swabs of the bite mark from the victim and Dr. Prade's fingernail clippings.
''In this case,'' Hunter wrote, ''the best possible source of DNA evidence to show the killer's identity was DNA from the bite mark on Dr. Prade's lab coat.''
Hunter said she conducted her ''own inspection'' of the coat, and that it ''appears to be lightly starched, with minimal soiling about the cuffs and collar.''
Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Brad Gessner, head of the agency's criminal division, had said in arguments opposing the new tests that any DNA found in the area of the bite mark ''does not tell us anything,'' because Dr. Prade had come into contact with any number of patients on the morning of her death.
''We do not know — we have no way of knowing — how many people she treated that day, or how many she came in contact with that day,'' Gessner told Hunter in his arguments.
In an interview with the Beacon Journal last year, before the Ohio Supreme Court ruling sent the case back to the county to decide the issue, Prade maintained his innocence.
Prade said he knows his DNA will not be found in the bite mark, or in any other evidence, because he was not the killer.
He has maintained that position from the outset of the case.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or email@example.com.