AKRON, Ohio (AP) – A former police captain released after nearly 15 years in prison for his ex-wife’s slaying landed back in custody for a few hours Thursday after an appeals court ruled a judge was wrong to free him based on bite-mark DNA testing.
A county judge ordered former Akron officer Douglas Prade taken into custody at a morning hearing, but Prade left the county jail in the afternoon because the Ohio Supreme Court granted his request to temporarily block the appeals court ruling.
“This has been a crazy day, but you guys seem to forget I spent 15 years in hell,” Prade told reporters as he left the jail.
Prosecutors wanted Prade sent back to prison. But his attorneys are fighting to keep him free while he tries to appeal to the high court, which hasn’t said whether it would hear the case.
Prade’s attorneys didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment after he was again released.
Prade was freed from prison in January 2013 when now-retired Judge Judy Hunter decided there was convincing evidence of his innocence based on DNA tests. The tests of the bite mark on Dr. Margo Prade’s lab coat showed the DNA did not match that of her former husband.
On Wednesday, Ohio’s 9th District Court of Appeals said that the DNA testing raised more questions than answers and that Prade’s original conviction was based on overwhelming circumstantial evidence.
“Without a doubt, Prade was excluded as a contributor of the DNA that was found in the bite mark section of Margo’s lab coat,” the ruling said. “The DNA testing, however, produced exceedingly odd results.” Each sample produced completely different results, the appeals court said.
“While it is indisputable that there was only one killer, at least two partial male profiles were uncovered within the bite mark,” the ruling said.
Prade, who maintains his innocence, had asked the Supreme Court to block the appeals court judgment, citing his intended appeal and an earlier alternative order granting him a new trial, which his attorneys say “provides a strong basis for allowing Mr. Prade to remain released.”
Prade had been living in Akron, bought a home and has been getting to know his grandchildren, his attorneys said in the filing as they explained why they don’t consider him likely to flee.
Prosecutors indicated they will fight to keep Prade behind bars and will challenge his appeal if the Supreme Court accepts the case.
“In order to be exonerated, Prade and his attorneys needed to show clear and convincing evidence of his innocence – not simply create doubt,” county Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh had said. “They failed.”
The county prosecutor during Prade’s original case was Maureen O’Connor, who is now the Supreme Court’s chief justice. She has recused herself from the case.
Prade was convicted in 1998 of shooting his 41-year-old ex-wife, a family practitioner, in her van outside her Akron office. There were no witnesses and no fingerprints, and no gun was found after the November 1997 shooting.
The test of the lab coat fabric showed it contained multiple DNA profiles. None matched Douglas Prade’s DNA.
An assistant prosecutor told the appeals court in August that the findings showed a possibility that the bite mark evidence was contaminated.
“The only absolute conclusion that can be drawn from the DNA results, however, is that their true meaning will never be known,” the 71-page appeals court ruling said.
Last month, Prade filed a federal lawsuit against current and former police officers, claiming he was framed.
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