A former Ohio police captain who spent nearly 15 years in prison before being exonerated in his ex-wife's killing could be headed back behind bars after an appeals court ruled that a judge was wrong to free him.
The ruling Wednesday comes a little more than a year after former Akron officer Douglas Prade was freed by a now-retired Summit County judge when new testing of a bite mark cast doubt on his conviction. Prade had been serving a sentence of life in prison with parole eligibility in 26 years.
Following the ruling, another judge ordered Prade to appear in court Thursday morning so she could decide whether he should be sent back to prison or remain free while he appeals the court ruling.
Prade was released in January 2013, after Judge Judy Hunter decided there was convincing evidence of his innocence after DNA 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 the DNA testing only raised more questions than answers and 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.
After the ruling, Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh sought a warrant to have Prade returned to prison. The prosecutor's office said it didn't know where he is currently living.
"In order to be exonerated, Prade and his attorneys needed to show clear and convincing evidence of his innocence — not simply create doubt," Walsh said. "They failed."
Prade's attorney did not return a message seeking comment.
Prade, who has maintained his innocence, was convicted in 1998 of shooting his 41-year-old ex-wife, a family practitioner, inside her van on the parking lot of her Akron office. There were no witnesses and no fingerprints, and no gun was found after the November 1997 shooting.
A test of the lab coat fabric showed it contained at least two and as many as five DNA profiles and none matched the former police captain's DNA.
A Summit County assistant prosecutor told the appeals court in August that the findings showed a possibility that the bite mark evidence was contaminated, perhaps before Prade was convicted and sentenced.
"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.
Prade's attorney said at the August hearing that new tests based on improved technology found only that the DNA came from a male, but not Prade.
Last month, Prade filed a lawsuit in federal court against current and former police officers, claiming he was framed.
He said after his release that he wanted to spend time with grandchildren he had never met and work with the Ohio Innocence Project, the group that helped free him, on cases of wrongfully convicted inmates.
"I'm just a jumble of emotions right now," he said then.