LONDON, Ohio (AP) — A former Ohio police captain who spent nearly 15 years in prison in his ex-wife’s killing was released Tuesday hours after a judge ruled that DNA test results prove he’s innocent and no reasonable jury would find otherwise.
Doug Prade was released from the Madison Correctional Institution outside of Columbus just hours after an Akron judge found that the new test results were “clear and convincing.”
“This is what should have happened in 1998,” Prade told reporters near the prison shortly after his release. “I’m innocent. I should have been found innocent back then.”
The now 66-year-old Prade was convicted in 1998 of shooting his ex-wife to death outside the Akron office where she worked as a doctor on Nov. 26, 1997. There were no witnesses, no fingerprints, and no gun ever was found.
Prade’s conviction largely was based on a bite mark found on his ex-wife’s body. The new test results show that Prade couldn’t have left the mark.
“I’m just a jumble of emotions right now,” said Prade, who appeared both elated and in disbelief.
He said that he planned to eat anything that hadn’t been cooked in prison and spend time with his family, including six grandchildren he has never met. He’s still deciding where he’ll live and what he’ll do now that he’s free, but Prade said that he wants to work with the Ohio Innocence Project — the group that helped free him — on other cases of wrongfully convicted inmates.
“There are thousands of innocent men and women in prison and a lot of them don’t have the advantage of DNA to rely on,” Prade said. “Hopefully those ones that do have DNA now — something will happen.”
Prosecutors appealed Summit County Court of Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter’s ruling and unsuccessfully fought Prade’s release from prison.
Summit County Prosecuting Attorney Sherri Bevan Walsh said in a statement that Hunter’s findings were “a gross misapplication of the law.”
“We have not seen any credible evidence that suggests innocence, and we are taking all available actions to keep a dangerous killer off the streets,” she said.
If a higher court agrees with prosecutors and overturns Hunter’s ruling, Prade would get a new trial.
The new DNA test was conducted on Margo Prade’s lab coat where her killer is believed to have bitten her.
A forensic dentist testified for the prosecution in 1998 that he was sure Prade was responsible for the mark, while a defense expert said that the defendant’s teeth couldn’t have left it. Another prosecution expert said there was no way to be certain that Prade made the mark but that it was consistent with his teeth.
Jurors found Prade guilty of aggravated murder after deliberating for six hours, and the 30-year veteran of the Akron police department was sentenced to life in prison.
The Ohio Innocence Project and other attorneys later intervened and successfully fought to get male DNA from around the bite mark tested. The test — conducted for free by a private lab — found conclusively that the DNA was not Doug Prade’s.
Prosecutors argued that the male DNA could have gotten on Margo Prade’s lab coat before or after she was killed. Further testing on other parts of the coat didn’t turn up any male DNA.
Hunter ruled Tuesday that the remaining evidence in the case would not be enough to convict Prade of murder, saying that much of it was “tenuous at best,” that the accuracy of two witnesses’ testimony was questionable and testimony about the Prades’ contentious divorce “is entirely circumstantial and insufficient by itself.”
In an interview with The Associated Press in August, Prade said that he hoped the results would be enough to free him.
“For them to find what I had known all that time was no surprise to me,” he said in a phone interview from prison. “I guess it was an epiphany to everyone else — ‘Hey, this guy was telling the truth.'”
In the years following Prade’s trial, bite-mark comparisons have come under fire as sham science. At least 11 prisoners convicted of rape or murder based largely on bite mark comparisons were exonerated — eight of them with DNA evidence. At least five other men were proved innocent as they sat in prison awaiting trials.
Prosecutors had argued last year that the DNA evidence wasn’t clear and convincing. Walsh said at an October hearing that “Prade is where the jury felt he belongs.”
Walsh had also emphasized circumstantial evidence in the case, saying that Prade had tapped his ex-wife’s phone hundreds of times in the year before the killing and never signed a divorce decree, which would have stopped him from collecting a $75,000 life insurance policy.
Prade’s attorneys said their client used more than half the policy to pay off Margo Prade’s own debts and still had more than a fourth of it when he was arrested. They also say a contentious divorce and the phone tapping don’t prove anything.
Prade told the AP in August that spending more than 14 years in prison, mostly amid the general population, was “hell on Earth.”
“I mean, it’s one thing if someone is guilty of something to be here, but to be not guilty and here is even worse,” he said.