Former Akron Police Captain Douglas Prade has been declared innocent of the 1997 murder of his ex-wife, Dr. Margo Prade. After 15 years of maintaining his innocence, Prade was officially released from Madison Correctional Institution at 4:37pm Tuesday afternoon. An order released this morning by Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Judy Hunter declared Prade innocent and set him free. Late Tuesday afternoon Hunter turned down a request by the Summit County Prosecutor to keep Prade in prison while her decision was appealed to the Ninth District Court Of Appeals.
In Hunter's ruling, she states the no jury would ever find him guilty of aggravated murder and says that he is "actually innocent of aggravated murder" and that "he shall be discharged from prison forthwith."
Hunter says that if her ruling is overturned on appeal, a new trial should be granted.
Prade's attorney, Carrie Wood, with the Ohio Innocence Project, says it's the news that they've been waiting for years to hear.
"He broke down this morning for the first time in a long time," said Wood, referring to Prade. "To be fighting all of these years to get someone to listen to you and finally the DNA made somebody listen. It was overwhelming for him."
Prade, however, cannot try to forget about the last 15 years yet. The Summit County Prosecutor's Office is appealing both rulings by Hunter and asking that Prade remain behind bars while the newest chapter in the case is resolved. Wood tells AkronNewsNow that she's planning on meeting with Prade this afternoon to oversee his immediate release.
"We see this as a gross misapplication of the law," said Chief Assistant Prosecutor Brad Gessner, who adds that questionable DNA evidence is not the only thing that put Prade in prison. "Doug Prade was a serial stalker of Margo Prade. His convictions for wiretapping her at her home remain in effect.
Judge Judy Hunter has been weighing evidence presented at a hearing last year surrounding the results of new DNA testing. One of the results showed that a bite mark found on Dr. Prade's lab coat - an important piece of evidence used to convict Prade - did not contain his DNA.
Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh plans to appeal the ruling:
Summit County Prosecuting Attorney Sherri Bevan Walsh today announced that her office will be appealing Judge Judy Hunter's ruling exonerating Douglas Prade of the murder of Dr. Margo Prade.
“This is a gross misapplication of the law, and we will be appealing Prade’s exoneration. The defendant had to present new evidence so convincing that no juror would have found him guilty, and he failed to do so,” said Prosecutor Walsh. “The DNA evidence presented by the Ohio Innocence Project on behalf of Prade is contaminated and unreliable. It does not prove innocence.”
Dr. Margo Prade was found shot to death in her minivan outside her medical practice in November 1997. Her husband, Akron Police Captain Douglas Prade, was convicted of her murder, along with wiretapping charges, and sentenced to life in prison. The Ohio Innocence Project took up Prade’s claim of innocence and petitioned the Court for his release or at least a new trial. They based their motion on additional DNA testing that they say excludes Prade as a contributor to the partial male DNA profiles present in the area where Dr. Margo Prade was bitten. DNA experts from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, however, interpret the test results as insufficient and unreliable and most likely proof of contamination or mistakes.
“We are disappointed in Judge Hunter’s opinion exonerating Doug Prade,” said Akron Police Department Chief James Nice. “All of the evidence clearly points to Prade as Dr. Margo Prade’s killer. He was proven guilty in front of a jury using a substantial amount of other evidence.”
“Senior prosecutors in my office, none of whom were involved in the original prosecution against Douglas Prade, have reviewed this case and agree with the jury’s interpretation of the facts and evidence,” said Prosecutor Walsh. “All of the evidence points to Prade as the person who murdered Dr. Margo Prade. He was a serial stalker. He tapped her phones and recorded more than 400 of her personal calls. He had verbally abused and threatened her. And we know Margo was afraid of him. Additionally, we have Prade’s handwritten tally of the bills he owed subtracted from the life insurance he'd get if Margo died, and we have two eyewitnesses who place Prade at the murder scene. 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.”
The State has an appeal of right with regards to the exoneration, which means the Ninth District Court of Appeals must consider the State’s appeal. If the Court of Appeals reverses Judge Hunter’s ruling, then the State has 30 days to file a motion in the Court of Appeals requesting permission to appeal the decision for a new trial. The Court of Appeals may take several weeks to decide whether to hear the appeal. 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.
Late Tuesday afternoon Judge Hunter denied the County Prosecutor's motion to keep Doug Prade in prison until the case was appealed. The County was next prepared to appeal to the 9th District Court Of Appeals to overturn Hunter's decision.
Prade's Daughter Reacts To Her Father's Release
One of Doug Prade's two daughters is supporting her father in his effort to declare his innocence and clear his name. Kenya Prade tells AkronNewsNow.com that she's stayed in contact with her father monthly for the past 15 years he's been in prison, convicted of her mother's murder.
Kenya tells AkronNewsNow " He always told me he was innocent. I wasn't there when it happened, so there's no way we can comment on that. But the whole thing is that if he didn't do it, then someone else did and I just want to know who."
Kenya says the judge's ruling still came as a shock . "It's kind of mixed emotions, happy and sad. Sad because he's missed out on 14 to 15 years of my life. Mainly I'm upset because if he was in prison and didn't do it then it's not fair. The evidence showed that he was not the person who made the bite mark."
Kenya says if her father is released from prison she would look forward to seeing him.