Ruling that freed Prade reversed, now back to court

AKRON -- The 9th District Court of Appeals has reversed a ruling that freed former Akron Police Capt. Douglas Prade from prison last year in the murder of his ex-wife.

The Summit County prosecutor's office says it's filed a motion to issue an arrest warrant to bring Prade back to prison. He's been ordered to appear in a Summit County courtroom tomorrow morning.

"In order to be exonerated, Prade and his attorneys needed to show clear and convincing evidence of his innocence -- not simply create doubt," said Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh. "They failed."

In a unanimous judgment released today, Judge Beth Whitmore wrote that Judge Judith Hunter abused her discretion in declaring Prade innocent. The court deemed Prade's latest DNA results "wholly questionable" and the exclusion of his DNA "meaningless."

Prade has a motion for a new trial pending in the Summit County Court of Common Pleas.

Hunter has since retired from the bench. Judge Christine Croce must now decide whether to issue a new trial or send Prade back to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence.

Late Wednesday, Croce ordered Prade to her courtroom for a hearing Thursday morning at 9 a.m. She will decide whether he gets sent back to prison immediately or if he can remain out while his appeal is filed with the Ohio Supreme Court.

Prade's conviction was based largely on a bite mark found on Margo Prade's body. One forensic dentist at trial testified the mark came from Douglas Prade.

Margo, his ex-wife, was was shot in her minivan outside her medical office on Nov. 26, 1997.

Prade served 15 years in prison before he was freed last year by Judge Hunter, who ordered he be released based on the new DNA tests that excluded him as the source of a bite mark.

Excerpts from the 9th District Court of Appeals ruling:

This Court has conducted an exhaustive review of the record in this matter and has arrived at several conclusions. First, we conclude that, while the results of the post-1998 DNA testing appear at first glance to prove Prade's innocence, the results, when viewed critically and taken to their logical end, only serve to generate more questions than answers. Second, we conclude that the State presented a great deal of evidence at trial in support of the guilty verdicts in this case. Third, we conclude, consistent with our precedent, that the jury was in the best position to weigh the credibility of the eyewitnesses and to decide what weight, if any, to accord the individual experts who testified at Prade's trial. Finally, we conclude that, having reviewed all of the evidence in this matter, the trial court abused its discretion when it granted Prade's PCR petition.

The court continued:

Having reviewed the entirety of the evidence, we must conclude that the trial court abused its discretion when it granted Prade's PCR petition. Given 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. That is, we are not firmly convinced that, given all of the foregoing, "no reasonable factfinder would have found [Prade] guilty." (Emphasis added.) R.C. 2953.21(A)(1)(b); R.C. 2953.23(A)(2). As such, it was an error for the trial court to grant Prade's petition and to order his discharge from prison. The State's sole assignment of error is sustained.

The State's sole assignment of error is sustained. The judgment of the Summit County Court of Common Pleas is reversed, and the cause is remanded for further proceedings consistent with the foregoing opinion.

Douglas Prade filed a lawsuit in January claiming he was he framed.

In her ruling from Jan. 20, 2013, Hunter granted Douglas Prade's requests vacating his conviction and a motion for a new trial if needed. Hunter went so far as to declare him innocent based on the new DNA results.

The Summit County prosecutor's office immediately appealed Hunter's decision.

Read the full ruling by the Ninth District Court of Appeals:


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