Court of Appeals reverses ruling exonerating Prade
Ohio Supreme Court then issues stay of reversal; Prade remains free
DOWNTOWN AKRON — The 9th District Court of Appeals reversed former Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Judy Hunter’s ruling exonerating former Akron Police Capt. Douglas Prade in the murder of his ex-wife, Dr. Margo Prade.
A jury convicted Prade in 1998. The Ohio Innocence Project, on behalf of Prade, filed a petition for either post-conviction relief or a new trial based on its claim that new DNA testing would prove Prade’s innocence.
Hunter issued a ruling Jan. 29, 2013, exonerating Prade of his ex-wife’s murder. The state appealed her ruling to the 9th District Court of Appeals on the grounds that the DNA did not show Prade’s innocence.
“In order to be exonerated, Prade and his attorneys needed to show clear and convincing evidence of his innocence — not simply create doubt,” said Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh. “They failed.”
In a unanimous judgment released March 19, Court of Appeals Judge Beth Whitmore wrote that Hunter, who retired this past July, abused her discretion in declaring Prade innocent.
According to Walsh, the court deemed Prade’s latest DNA results “wholly questionable” and the exclusion of his DNA “meaningless.” According to Walsh, after citing the numerous pieces of evidence used to convict Prade in 1998, the court found that “[g]iven the enormity of the evidence in support of Prade’s guilt and the fact that the meaningfulness of the DNA exclusion results is far from clear, this court cannot conclude that Prade set forth clear and convincing evidence of actual innocence.”
Prade has a motion for a new trial pending in Summit County Common Pleas Court, according to Walsh.
Common Pleas Court Judge Christine Croce, who was appointed to Hunter’s seat upon her retirement, held a status hearing the morning of March 20, at which Prade was ordered to appear. At the hearing, Croce remanded him to custody in the Summit County Jail based on the appellate court’s decision.
However, that afternoon, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled on one of two March 19 motions from Prade’s attorneys and issued a temporary stay of the appellate court’s decision.
Due to this stay, Croce ordered Prade to be released from jail, and all further proceedings in the Common Pleas Court related to this case also are temporarily stayed, according to Croce.
Walsh’s office must file a response to the stay by March 30, and the Ohio Supreme Court will rule on the stay any time after that.
The other motion filed by Prade’s attorneys in the Ohio Supreme Court was for a review of the case. The court has not determined whether it will hear the case. If it does not, then the appellate court’s ruling would stand, and Croce would need to decide whether Prade should receive a new trial.
Prade’s conviction on six counts of interception of wire, oral or electronic communications and one count of possessing criminal tools was not part of his motion for his conviction to be overturned, according to Walsh.
Maria Lindsay contributed to this report.
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