Death Row Inmate Asks Ohio Supreme Court for New DNA Test

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40-year-old Tyrone Noling was sentenced to death for the shooting deaths of Bearnhardt and Cora Hartig in their Portage County home in 1990. He was convicted mostly on testimony from alleged accomplices. But police had found a cigarette butt in the driveway, and DNA testing excluded Noling, but wasn’t sophisticated enough at the time to identify a suspect.

In 2008, Noling’s legal team asked for a new DNA test on the cigarette butt, saying they’d learned police had compared the DNA to that of Daniel Wilson, who was on death row for another murder but had lived near the Hartigs’ house when they were killed – and that the DNA test did NOT exclude Wilson as the Hartigs’ killer. The court denied the request.

After the passage of a 2010 law allowing for some retesting of DNA under improved technology to disclose new evidence, Noling’s team tried again. And the trial court again denied the request, saying a defendant can’t ask for the same test more than once. Carrie Wood is with the Ohio Innocence Project. She told Justice Terrence O’Donnell a new test is in order.

O'DONNELL: “So at the most you would get a request for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence, or -- what is the link of, assuming the test were ordered, that Wilson’s DNA were on that cigarette? What does that mean?”

WOOD: “That means, hopefully -- well, Mr. Noling is innocent of the crime, and that he, at the very least, deserves a new trial. He does not deserve to be on death row.”

Noling has said he didn’t commit the murders. The accomplices have recanted their testimony against Noling, and Wood says Daniel Wilson confessed he killed the Hartigs. But Portage County prosecutor Victor Vigluicci says police ruled out Wilson as a suspect early on, and that the so-called confession came from an affidavit from Wilson’s foster brother 20 years after the murders. Vigluicci told Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor that a new test wouldn’t matter anyway.

O'CONNOR: “If they do determine that Mr. Wilson’s DNA matches that of the cigarette butt, that merely one fact that would be introduced at a new trial, which is not -- are you downplaying the significance of that?

VIGLUICCI: “Certainly. It’s certainly not outcome-determinative if somebody flicked a cigarette out of their car as they passed the Hartigs’ house.”

Wilson was executed in 2009, but his DNA is in the state’s database and could still be tested against the cigarette. Noling has no execution date as of now.

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