Sahara Prade was 9 when her mother, a beloved family doctor, was taken from her in a fatal shooting on the morning before Thanksgiving Day in 1997.
Margo Prade, according to family and friends, had hoped to host Thanksgiving dinner at her Akron home, where she was to introduce the man she was planning to marry, Columbus attorney Timothy Holston.
“It’s definitely been a journey for me,” Sahara Prade said reflectively Wednesday in a Skype hookup from Las Vegas, where she now lives and works as a professional singer and songwriter.
Her mother was only 41 when she was killed.
She spoke openly and excitedly about her father, former Akron Police Capt. Douglas Prade, who was freed from prison Tuesday — in a declaration of innocence by a Summit County judge — after 14 years and four months behind bars for the slaying of his ex-wife, the mother of their two children.
As upbeat as she was, however, her older sister, Kenya Prade, now 28 and living in Atlanta as a nurse practitioner and single mother, said she has not seen her father since the day he was convicted and sent away.
Both young women, though, talked in mainly positive ways about him and their impending reunions.
Losing both of her parents at such a young age, Sahara Prade said, “probably took a bigger toll on me than it did on my sister, because I kind of acted out when I was younger, and as a teenager.
“I was just so angry and upset at the world,” she said, “just mad because I really felt I had nobody to talk to. It’s hard when you see your friends and they’re talking to their moms and dads.
“People really don’t think about that, because it’s like nothing to them when they say, oh yeah, I just got off the phone with my mom. I was just thinking: ‘Man, this isn’t fair.’
“But now, I feel like this whole time has kind of been justified for me, because I feel like this is a second start for all of us.”
Cincinnati attorney Carrie Wood of the Ohio Innocence Project, who helped exonerate Douglas Prade based on exclusionary DNA evidence from the crime scene, said her client spent his first hours of freedom Tuesday night in Columbus, where he has five grandchildren, Wood said.
The children had written to him for years while he was wrongfully incarcerated, Wood said, and they had never met him before Tuesday night.
After the Columbus reunion, Prade was driven home to Akron, where he spent the night with his sister, Yvonne Prade, 60, at her home on the west side, Wood said.
Reporters and a Cleveland television crew briefly visited the home to speak to Douglas Prade about his first night of freedom, but he made plans to return to Columbus on Wednesday morning to spend the night again with his grandchildren, Wood said.
Meanwhile, in what promises to be a heated legal battle over Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter’s stunning acquittal of the former Akron police commander, county prosecutors filed a notice of appeal on Hunter’s decision in Akron’s 9th District Court of Appeals.
April Wiesner, chief spokeswoman for Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh, said attorneys were working on a more thorough appellate brief.
Sahara Prade, who said she is in her early 20s — “You know, I’m an entertainer, so I can’t disclose that,” she said with a laugh — found out about her father’s exoneration at about 5 a.m., her time, from an ex-boyfriend in Ohio, she said.
“I went from being asleep to being totally awake, just crying and overwhelmed, you could say, because the process was so quick. To see how everything transpired was just amazing for me,” she said.
In emails sent through the prison system, Sahara Prade said, she frequently communicated with her father for the past few years.
She said she spoke to him by phone Tuesday night and Wednesday morning and that he is “on cloud nine.”
“I think it’s like a dream to him,” she said, “because I know it is to me. It has to be an overwhelming situation for him, and I just want to be here to support him.”
When asked if she always felt that way, that her father was innocent, she replied: “Can we do another question?”
But in moments, Sahara Prade was saying she feels he is innocent now.
“Based on materials that the Ohio Innocence Project provided me, and me being able now to form my own personal opinions, not having to listen to what others have to say, I really believe he should be at home right now,” she said.
As soon as her father’s plans are settled, she said she anticipates seeing him in the next week “wherever he is.”
In Las Vegas, she said she sings reggae in lounges near The Strip and has a Feb. 9 engagement there at the Hard Rock Cafe.
Kenya Prade said in a phone interview from Atlanta that she spoke to her father Tuesday night and that he is planning to visit her and her 6-year-old daughter there.
She said it was the first time he got to talk to her daughter.
“I think he’s planning to come to see us, actually, because I don’t want my daughter to miss school. She has perfect attendance and good grades, so we can’t mess that up,” Kenya Prade said.
In October, both she and Sahara attended a full day of the DNA court hearings before Hunter in Akron, but politely declined to comment about any aspect of the case.
The sisters apparently have been advised by Innocence Project lawyers not to discuss case details, because Summit prosecutors are extremely serious about overturning Prade’s exoneration on appeal.
Kenya Prade, who has been working as a nurse practitioner in obstetrics and gynecology since 2009 after attending University of Akron classes and graduating from the University of Cincinnati, said she was “definitely happy” about the news.
Her belief in her father’s innocence, she said calmly, has been consistent since childhood.
“I always believed him when he said he was innocent,” Kenya Prade said, “because I don’t think he would ever put us through that kind of pain — taking my mom from us when we were so young.”
She was 12 years old when it happened.
WEWS TV-5 contributed to this article. Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.