Douglas Prade, former Ohio police captain, exonerated in ex-wife's murder after nearly 15 years in prison

Douglas Prade is seen testifying on Sept. 21, 1998 during his aggravated murder trial in Akron, Ohio.
AP Photo/Akron Beacon Journal, Lew Stamp, File

(AP) CINCINNATI - Douglas Prade, a former Ohio police captain who has spent nearly 15 years in prison in his ex-wife's killing, was exonerated Tuesday by a judge who said that new DNA tests proved his innocence, and that no reasonable jury that saw the test results would have convicted him.

Prade should be set free because the new DNA results are "clear and convincing," Judge Judy Hunter said.

Prade's attorney, Carrie Wood, said when she called the 66-year-old Prade to give him the news, he broke down in tears and couldn't speak for a while.

"This was a very humble and thankful Doug," said Wood, who has been working for years to get Prade freed.

"There was no 'I told you so,'" Wood said. "There was only joy that it was finally recognized by the court and that he might get to come home to his family today."

Summit County Prosecuting Attorney Sherri Bevan Walsh vowed to appeal, saying in a statement that the judge's findings were "a gross misapplication of the law."

If a higher court agrees with prosecutors and overturns Hunter's ruling, Prade would get a new trial instead of simply being set free.

Margo Prade, a 41-year-old prominent Akron doctor, was found slumped in her minivan outside her office on Nov. 26, 1997. She had been shot six times, but there were no eyewitnesses, no fingerprints, and no gun was ever found.

The only piece of concrete evidence was a bite mark on her arm; the killer bit her so hard that it left an impression through her lab coat and blouse.

A forensic dentist testified for the prosecution that he was sure Prade was responsible for the mark, while a defense expert said that the defendant's teeth couldn't have left it. A third expert for the prosecution said there was no way to be certain that Prade made the mark but that it was consistent with his teeth.

Jurors found Prade guilty of aggravated murder after deliberating for six hours, and the 30-year veteran of the Akron police department was sentenced to life in prison.

The Ohio Innocence Project later intervened and successfully fought to get male DNA from around the bite mark tested. The test found conclusively that the DNA was not Doug Prade's.

Prade's attorneys said the new test, which wasn't widely available at the time of his trial, proved his innocence. Prosecutors argued that the male DNA could have gotten on Margo Prade's lab coat before or after she was killed. Further testing on other parts of the coat didn't turn up any male DNA.