The appeals court found that much of the prosecution's case was based on statements from the 3-year-old who didn't remember what he had said at the time of trial

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TWINSBURG, Ohio -- The case of a northeast Ohio man convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend in front of her 3-year-old son has been sent back to a federal court for a possible retrial.

A decision Thursday by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati means Willard McCarley's case will go back to a federal judge for consideration.

The appeals court found that much of the prosecution's case was based on statements from the 3-year-old who didn't remember what he had said at the time of trial, violating McCarley's right to confront witnesses against him.

The 51-year-old McCarley, of Northfield Center, was sentenced to life in prison in the January 1992 death of his ex-girlfriend in Twinsburg. She was strangled and beaten.

Charlene Puffenbarger filed a paternity/child support suit in November, 1991 naming Willard McCarley as the father of her two-year-old son. On Jan. 20, 1992, a neighbor came to Charlene's apartment and found her dead on a couch with several scalp lacerations, defensive wounds on her hands, and a leather strap wrapped twice around her neck.

Prosecutors say McCarley beat, strangled and suffocated Charlene Puffenbarger, 26, in her home in order to avoid paying child support. The crime went unsolved until new advances in DNA technology led to McCarley's arrest and conviction.

Attorneys for both sides didn't immediately return calls seeking comment Thursday.

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