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State v Prade – Court Reverses & another appeal due

This is a developing story with,as of yet, no clear conclusion – latest update October 2014 (see bottom of page).

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A long and lengthy legal battle has a new chapter today (14th March 2014) as the State of Ohio Court of Appeal reverses the decision of a lower Court and refuse an appeal brought by Douglas Prade against his aggravated murder conviction. The trial court stated:

[b]ite mark evidence….provided the basis for the guilty verdict

This is a fascinating case and features a controversial bitemark and a number of experts who have testified over the years in the case.  One of the originally testifying dentists – Lowell Levine features in this case and for this appeal the Court heard from Dr Frank Wright and Dr Mary Bush.  Each had differing views over the utility of the bitemark.

The trial court noted that neither Dr. Bush, nor Dr. Wright had tendered an opinion with regard to the specific bite mark left on Margo, but that both had criticized either the science behind bite mark identification or the bite mark identification testimony that had been admitted at Prade’s trial. The trial court determined that “both experts’ opinions call into serious question the overall scientific basis for bite-mark identification testimony.

Interestingly the bitemark was also a source of DNA.  The appeal was based on the fact that analysis of this could not identify Prade, indeed the court found that “..without a  – however, the complexities of the analysis, and the risk of contamination appear to have negated this evidence.

When examining the bitemark evidence the judges state that, as in many other cases, the trier of fact (jury) were given all the details of the bitemark, that there were varied opinions provided, and that they were clear that bitemarks had been wrongly analysed in the past:

As for the dental experts, the jury was essentially presented with the entire spectrum of opinions on the bite mark at trial. That is, one expert testified that Prade was the biter, one testified that the bite mark was consistent with Prade’s dentition, but that there was not enough there to make any conclusive determination, and the third testified that Prade lacked the ability to bite anything. Moreover, the expert who definitively said Prade was the biter, Dr. Marshall, also said that the expert who determined a definitive inclusion could not be made (Dr. Levine) was “one of the leading bite[]mark experts in the country.” The jury also heard testimony during cross-examination that dental experts often disagree and that bite mark testimony has led to wrongful convictions. In short, the jury had much of the same information before it at trial that the experts at the PCR stage presented and, in light of all that information, found Prade guilty

In essence there is a view that the bitemark evidence – for better or worse, was placed into context and the jury should apply an appropriate weight given the differences of opinions and the conclusions reached. It should also be noted that the DNA analysts also reached different conclusions when considering why Prade was excluded as the source.  So even DNA is not impervious to the mixed opinions of testify experts. You can download the entire judgement here

A further development on the 20th March is that, just hours after he was taken in to custody, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that led to Douglas Prade’s release.

“This has been a crazy, day but you guys forget I spent 15 years in hell,” Prade said upon his release Thursday.

The former Akron police captain was declared not guilty of his wife’s murder more than one year ago and was released from prison. But Wednesday, the 9th District Court of Appeals issued a ruling saying his release was a mistake, and he was taken back into custody Thursday morning. Prade appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, which issued a stay in his case on Thursday. Prade was released — again — Thursday at around 2:30 p.m., and is to remain free while the Supreme Court reviews his case.

A status hearing took place at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Summit County Common Pleas Court. Prade arrived about a half hour before.  His sister Yvonne was with him along with Lisa Gates, one of his attorneys. If prosecutors have their way, he will head back to prison to serve out the rest of his life sentence. Prade spent 14 years behind bars after he was convicted in the 1997 shooting death of his wife, Dr. Margo Prade, outside her Akron medical office. Last year, a Summit County judge ordered his release from prison after his attorneys argued the was DNA evidence on Dr. Prade’s lab coat did not belong to Douglas Prade.

When this piece of evidence went back to the jury, we don’t know if jurors handled it, we don’t know if that was jurors’ DNA on it,” said Brad Gessner, assistant county prosecutor. “We know that when the FBI initially tested this, there was no saliva on it.  So as the court said, how do you argue about all of this saliva all these years later when there was none there to start with?”

The 9th District Court of Appeals ruled that the Summit County judge who declared Prade not guilty “abused her discretion” and said that Prade’s DNA results were “questionable” and only “generated more questions than answers.”

My sister is gone and she’s resting in peace and we’re still suffering, but for them to let Douglas out like they did, I was just so outdone the way they let him out,” said Veronica Sadler, Margo Prade’s sister.

 October 2014 (1)

AKRON, Ohio — A Summit County judge could determine on Thursday if former Akron Police Capt. Douglas Prade’s murder case will be sent back to trial.The Ohio Ninth District Court of Appeals on Tuesday rejected Prade’s latest attempt to have the appeals panel reconsider its previous ruling that negated his exoneration and a request for a new trial. The case will now go to Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Christine Croce, who set a hearing on the case for Thursday. Croce can order a new trial or deny Prade a new trial. Attorneys will have the option to appeal Tuesday’s decision to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Prade was convicted of killing his wife in 1998 by a jury trial and the case has been appealed several times since. A judge in 2013 exonerated Prade because of DNA evidence from someone other than Prade was found on Margot Prade.  The Ninth District Appeals judges overturned now-retired Summit County Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter’s exoneration and later vacated the 2013 order for a new trial because it included conditions based on another court’s future ruling. Prade’s attorneys argued that civil and federal procedures would allow the case to be retried. “Because the rules cited apply to specific situations that are not applicable here, we are not persuaded by (Prade’s attorneys’) arguments,” the one-page decision says.

Croce previously ordered Prade to return to jail after he spent 18 months free following the exoneration.

 October 2014 (2)

The decision on a new trial for former Akron Police Capt. Douglas Prade in the slaying of his ex-wife was put on hold Thursday during a Summit County court hearing. Afterward, Prade left the courtroom in orange county jail clothes and shackles under escort by sheriff’s deputies. Common Pleas Judge Christine Croce took the matter under advisement, then ordered Prade to be returned to state prison where he will be held under protective custody while his lawyers prepare an appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court. Prade, who has been jailed since July 25, said nothing during the hearing. But two older sisters of Dr. Margo Prade, who was shot to death in her office parking lot on the morning before Thanksgiving in 1997, had plenty to say. Standing next to her sister as Cleveland TV crews and reporters asked for her reaction at seeing her former brother-in-law again, Veronica Sadler said: “I’m just tired of all this. It’s wearing me out.”

“Physically, mentally, it’s wearing me out. I’ve been under a lot of stress, so every time this happens, I relive it over and over and over again,” she said. “You can’t forget,” her sister, Edith Shamberger, said. Prade,Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 08.26.06 now 68, was freed in January 2013, after serving nearly 15 years for aggravated murder, under an exoneration order by now-retired Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter. That order was based on a weeklong DNA hearing. After testimony by numerous forensic experts, Hunter found that Prade was excluded as the contributor to a central piece of crime-scene evidence: a bite-mark impression on a small section of fabric from Dr. Prade’s lab coat. Both sides have agreed, from the very outset of one of Akron’s most notorious crimes, that the killer bit her moments before the fatal shooting. Hunter’s ruling, including a conditional order for a new trial if her findings were overturned, was reversed in March by Akron’s 9th District Court of Appeals. The appeals court found overwhelming circumstantial evidence supporting Prade’s 1998 conviction, and discounted the DNA results as only raising more questions than answers. Croce had three choices after the 9th District refused last week to reconsider its decision. She could have ordered a new trial, denied a new trial, or set another evidentiary hearing on the matter. Croce said she would review the voluminous court records in the case, including Hunter’s 26-page exoneration order, and file a written decision on the new-trial issue. Prade’s defense team, meanwhile, has a Nov. 17 deadline for an appeal to the high court.

Sadler said the case would have been over long ago, with a sentence similar to the time Prade actually served, if he simply would have told the truth about what happened. She said she always has believed that her sister scratched Prade in the neck during a struggle, he became infuriated and shot her to death. “What he did was in anger. All he had to do was say, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do it.’ Anybody could understand that, and the truth,” she said, “would have set him free.”


About Odont1

Odont1 is a seasoned forensic dentist, researcher and educator with an interest in progressing the science of the discipline while retaining those elements that are evidence based and useful to the judicial system at any level.

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