By Dennis McEaneney and Charlene Nevada
Beacon Journal staff writers
(Story originally published Sept. 25, 1998)
Prosecutors in the murder trial of former Akron police Capt. Douglas Prade made a case against Prade based almost solely on circumstantial evidence that was so compelling, jurors needed only four hours to return a guilty verdict.
In 12 days of trial testimony, prosecution and defense attorneys called 52 witnesses and offered 243 pieces of evidence for the jurors to examine during deliberations.
None of the witnesses saw Dr. Margo Prade’s murder last Nov. 26. None of those pieces of evidence included the murder weapon.
Instructed by Common Pleas Judge Mary Spicer to rely also on their memories of the testimony and evidence, the 12 jurors quickly came to the unanimous conclusion that Douglas Prade was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Prade, 52, was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison for the murder of his ex-wife, family practitioner Margo Prade, 41, who was shot to death when she arrived at her Wooster Avenue medical office.
Douglas Prade was convicted of all charges -- one of aggravated murder, six counts of wiretapping and one of possession of criminal tools.
He must serve at least 26 years in prison before becoming eligible for a parole hearing.
Although jury members made a pact that they wouldn’t speak about the verdict, one juror said yesterday that testimony linking a bite mark found on Margo Prade’s body to Douglas Prade sealed her decision.
“Different people had different things” that convinced jurors of Prade’s guilt, she said, but to her, the bite mark was key. “That’s what it was for me,” said the juror, who asked not to be identified. “It just matched.”
While declining comment, the wife of another juror said their phone had been ringing all day from the news media -- including a call from a television station at 6:30 a.m. But she said her husband had made a commitment to his fellow jurors not to talk -- and he was not about to break that commitment.
Fighting for his life
Douglas Prade testified in his own defense that he and Margo Prade hardly ever saw each other after she began a private medical practice in 1989 while he was a police sergeant on night shift.
Margo Prade first discussed getting a divorce in 1991, but the couple tried marriage counseling instead, he said on the witness stand.
When they were unable to re-establish their marital relationship, they had more discussions about divorcing, he told the jury.
Douglas Prade testified that in 1994, “I was resigned to the fact there was going to be a divorce.”
But, he testified, the couple’s relationship remained amicable, and after their divorce in April 1997, they remained friends and communicated frequently.
His personal finances were unaffected by the divorce, he testified.
“I did not kill Margo,” Douglas Prade said to spectators in the courtroom after he was found guilty of her murder.
But Assistant County Prosecutors Michael Carroll and Alison McCarty established a wholly different story from the testimony of 44 prosecution witnesses.
From the witness stand
This is the story told in court by those witnesses, many of whom were Margo Prade’s relatives and friends:
Believing in the fall of 1994 that Margo Prade was going to file for divorce, Douglas Prade bought a special voice-activated tape recorder and began secretly taping the phone calls made to and from the couple’s home on Mull Avenue.
After “electronically stalking” Margo Prade, as prosecutor McCarty put it, Douglas Prade began to display possessive, jealous behavior.
At the start of 1996 with her 40th birthday approaching, Margo Prade began a diet and exercise program to lose weight and improve her appearance.
In mid-1996 — three years after Douglas Prade had begun dating former Akron police officer Carla Smith -- Margo Prade began seeing Akron firefighter Al Strong.
Douglas Prade responded with verbal abuse, calling Margo Prade a “fat bitch,” and making threats against her.
“I can do away with you and nobody will know,” he said. “I’ve got something for your ass,” he said on another occasion.
There was physical abuse as well. Margo Prade complained to a sister that Douglas Prade had put his hands around her neck and choked her.
Douglas Prade used the police department computer to find Al Strong’s license plate number and began to harass Margo Prade about her relationship with Strong.
Tapes made by Douglas Prade that were played in his trial established that Margo Prade genuinely feared her husband.
Determined to escape Douglas Prade’s cruelty, Margo Prade filed for divorce on Dec. 31, 1996.
Douglas and Margo Prade met with divorce lawyer Annalisa Stubbs Williams on Jan. 4, 1997, to discuss a separation agreement meant to turn the contested divorce into a dissolution.
But Douglas Prade launched into a tirade.
Accusing Margo Prade of “behaving like a slut” and “whoring around,” Douglas Prade threatened to have his wife declared an unfit mother and to fight for custody of the couple’s two daughters, possession of their home on Mull Avenue and spousal support.
During the divorce proceedings, Douglas Prade refused to sign any of the paperwork and didn’t attend the final hearing.
After the split, he refused to acknowledge the divorce, didn’t tell his closest friends it took place and refused to move out of the Mull Avenue home.
After he was forced out in June 1997 by a letter from Stubbs Williams threatening legal action, Douglas Prade moved to an apartment in Copley Township, and his obsession -- and anger -- with Margo Prade intensified.
When Margo Prade changed the locks and installed a security system at her Mull Avenue home, Douglas Prade got a key and the code to the security system from his older daughter.
He went almost daily to the home, opened mail, ate and made his presence known.
He watched Margo Prade’s medical office while parked across the street in an unmarked police car. He had a key to her office and went there at night while on duty.
He followed her to Akron General Medical Center, confronted her in a doctors’ lounge and argued with her.
He frequently borrowed her 1996 Dodge Caravan -- the vehicle she died in -- to take his daughters to extracurricular activities.
Douglas Prade also began encountering financial problems.
No longer able to enjoy the benefit of Margo Prade’s $140,000 annual income, Douglas Prade’s lifestyle was threatened when he had to begin paying $660 a month in rent and $600 a month in child support.
From mid-August to mid-November 1997, he was charged $340 by Bank One in overdraft fees for bounced checks. On Nov. 15, 1997, the balance in his checking account was minus $500.
In October 1997, he began “fantasizing” -- according to prosecutor McCarty -- about Margo Prade’s death.
A bank deposit slip dated Oct. 8, 1997, lists on its back some of Douglas Prade’s debts. Those figures were totaled, then subtracted from $75,000, the amount Douglas Prade received from a Northwestern Mutual life insurance policy after Margo Prade’s death.
On her return Nov. 22 from a four-day trip to Las Vegas, Margo Prade was upset to learn that Douglas Prade had stayed at her home with their daughters and had slept in her bed while she was gone.
Margo Prade considered asking her divorce lawyer to file a legal action to increase her child support payments and to revoke the joint custody arrangement that allowed Douglas Prade to see their daughters any time he wished.
Margo Prade talked to attorney Stubbs Williams about filing the request in divorce court, but on the advice of a friend, decided to try one more time to iron things out with Douglas Prade and reach a workable agreement on custody.
She told the friend she had arranged to meet with Douglas Prade Nov. 25.
After Margo Prade was murdered the following day, detectives found a check in Margo Prade’s purse dated Nov. 25 for $75 made out to Stubbs Williams — the amount of the filing fee for the divorce court action.
Two eyewitnesses testified they saw Douglas Prade near Margo Prade’s medical office before and just after she was murdered.
After Margo Prade’s body was discovered in her van outside her medical office, Summit County Medical Examiner Marvin Platt found a bite mark on her upper left arm.
Dr. Thomas Marshall, Platt’s dental consultant, testified that Douglas Prade’s teeth perfectly matched the mark left on Margo Prade’s arm.
No one else in the world could have made that bite mark except Douglas Prade, Marshall said.