Court testimony Monday from the final defense witness in the effort to free convicted murderer Douglas Prade called into question whether two prosecution eyewitnesses correctly identified him at his 1998 Summit County jury trial.
The former Akron police captain, now 66, is serving a life sentence for aggravated murder in the late November 1997 shooting death of his ex-wife, Dr. Margo Prade.
Autopsy results showed the doctor was shot six times, at the long-ago established time of 9:10 a.m., as she sat behind the wheel of her van in her Wooster Avenue office parking lot.
One eyewitness, Howard F. Brooks, now deceased, placed Prade at the scene, saying he saw him driving a car with a distinctive-?looking passenger, noting further that he heard the tires “peeling off” as the vehicle sped away.
A second eyewitness, Robin Husk, who worked at a Rolling Acres car dealership adjacent to the murder scene, also identified Prade. He testified that the man he saw on the morning of the slaying had a mustache, no eyeglasses and was bald — all traits of Prade at that time.
But in Monday’s hearing before Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter, defense witness Charles A. Goodsell, who has a doctorate in psychology in 2010 from the University of Oklahoma, said factors involved in both IDs, in his opinion, were “faulty.”
Goodsell’s field of expertise is eyewitness memory and identification of suspects in major crimes.
He noted that Brooks did not participate in any suspect identification procedure until three months after the slaying.
Husk, Goodsell said, did not make his identification until August 1998, not long before the former captain’s trial was about to begin.
“Clearly, honest, well-intending witnesses make mistakes. These witnesses were not lying; their memory had led them to the wrong conclusion,” Goodsell wrote in a court-filed affidavit regarding his research.
Goodsell also testified that going back to the 1990s there have been more than 290 post-conviction exonerations nationwide attributable to DNA evidence testing, and 75 percent of those cases relied on eyewitness testimony to convict.
Although DNA exclusionary evidence was the primary basis for the Prade hearings held over three days in the past week, chief defense counsel David Alden explained why Goodsell was called on eyewitness memory reliability.
“We have to show, in light of all the evidence, why there would be reasonable doubt now if this case were to go to trial again. That’s why we’re bringing up eyewitness memory, and obviously that’s why we had two DNA experts.”
Summit Assistant Prosecutor Mary Ann Kovach attempted to combat Goodsell’s experience in his field.
Under cross examination, Goodsell acknowledged he had testified in one previous court case, in Kentucky. He could not recall specifics about how that case turned out.
Kovach also stressed that Goodsell, in his current teaching job as an assistant professor at Canisius College, has not reached the status of a full professor, or even an associate professor in his field.
In last week’s hearings, the defense called two independent DNA experts. Both testified that several sections of fabric over bite-mark evidence on Dr. Prade’s lab coat tested positively for DNA profiles of two unidentified males.
Both excluded Douglas Prade.
Lewis Maddox, a DNA expert who has worked at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation since 2007, was called as a government witness on the defense findings.
In nearly two hours of detailed questioning about his analysis of those tests, Maddox said the exclusionary DNA profiles were so small in cell volume, one and possibly both came from contamination over the years, or from touch or transfer during previous handling of evidence in court.
“It’s very low level,” Maddox said of the cell volume in those profiles. And the low levels, he said, would have “very little significance” in identifying a person who truly left the bite mark.
That assertion has been a consistent prosecution position since the Prade hearings began Oct. 22. The hearings will continue Wednesday.
Hunter ultimately will decide whether to exonerate Prade, grant him a new trial or let his conviction stand. No timetable for her decision has been set.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.