COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Former Akron police captain Douglas Prade spent 15 years in prison for killing his ex-wife, then walked free last year after a judge said there was convincing DNA evidence of his innocence. A ruling by a divided Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday could send him back behind bars.
The court decided 4-3 without comment against hearing Prade's appeal of a lower-court ruling that tossed out the judge's innocence declaration this year, a ruling that cited "the enormity of the evidence in support of Prade's guilt."
It was not immediately clear what the next step is for Prade, including whether he must return to prison. Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh is pushing to revoke Prade's freedom.
"We intend to return Prade to prison, where he belongs," Walsh said in a statement Wednesday.
A group that pushes to free innocent offenders and which has worked on behalf of Prade called the decision disappointing.
The Ohio Innocence Project "will continue to fight with vigilance to clear Mr. Prade from a crime he did not commit," the group said.
Prade, 68, was released in January 2013, after Summit County Judge Judy Hunter — who has since retired — 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 March 19, 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.
"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 was briefly returned to jail after the ruling, then freed after the state Supreme Court granted his request to temporarily block the appeals court ruling.
Still at issue is an order by Hunter that Prade receive a new trial. Minutes after the Supreme Court's ruling, Walsh asked the judge handling the case to return Prade to prison while the new trial issue is decided by an appeals court. A hearing is scheduled Friday in Akron.
Prade was convicted in 1998 of shooting his 41-year-old ex-wife, a family practitioner, inside her van at the parking lot of her Akron office. There were no witnesses and no fingerprints, and no gun was found after the 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 last August that the findings showed a possibility that the bite mark evidence was contaminated, perhaps before Prade was convicted and sentenced.
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.
Prade filed a lawsuit in federal court this year against current and former police officers, claiming he was framed.
He said after his release he wanted to spend time with grandchildren he had never met and work with the Ohio Innocence Project on cases of wrongfully convicted inmates.
Prade's attorneys have said he is living quietly in Akron, getting reacquainted with family and is not a flight risk.