"Ohio Supreme Court hears request for DNA testing that Portage County death row inmate hopes will clear him," is by Aaron Marshall for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
A cigarette butt found in the driveway of a murder victim could be a key piece of evidence in overturning the conviction of death row inmate Tyrone Noling, the Ohio Supreme Court was told Tuesday by an attorney fighting to free him.
The cigarette butt was the focus of a hearing before the state's highest court as attorneys for the Portage County convicted killer argued that the court should order DNA retesting in his case -- something lower courts have twice stopped from happening.
"Tyrone Noling is innocent and is sitting on death row," said Carrie Wood, an attorney for Noling, after the morning hearing. "He is entitled to this testing. At some point, the question becomes, why is the prosecutor fighting so hard to deny him this evidence?"
Police found the cigarette butt when they investigated the 1990 murder of Bearnhardt and Cora Hartig. They were found dead of gunshot wounds on the floor of ther kitchen in Atwater Township.
There is no physical evidence linking Noling to the murders. He was convicted largely on the testimony of three men, all of whom have since recanted, saying they lied to avoid a death sentence.
Prosecutors say retesting isn't needed -- it won't prove who murdered the elderly couple and is nothing more than a delaying tactic for Noling as he sits on death row.
"If DNA is a truth-finding resource, we are all for it," said Portage County Prosecutor Vic Vigluicci. "But at some point these repeated requests -- this is the third time now -- are done just to delay the executions and not to seek out the truth."
While saliva found on the cigarette butt was tested for DNA back in 1996, the results only excluded Noling and his co-defendants as possible matches. With new technology, the DNA on the butt could now be matched with a specific individual's DNA.
The Akron Beacon Journal reports, "Ohio Supreme Court weighs DNA testing for inmate convicted in 1990 slaying of Portage County couple." It's by Ed Meyer.
Prosecutors told the Ohio Supreme Court Tuesday morning that even if such testing were granted, it would be meaningless.
Tyrone Noling, now 40, was convicted and sentenced to death in the shootings of an elderly couple, Bearnhardt and Cora Hartig, at the kitchen table of their Atwater Township home.
Initial DNA testing of the butt — found on the Hartigs’ driveway — already excluded Noling and one of his three co-defendants, according to evidence at his 1996 trial.
Portage County Prosecutor Victor V. Vigluicci stressed that point as justices questioned both sides on the long-debated issue.
Even if the cigarette butt points to the DNA of another man, Vigluicci argued, such a finding would prove nothing because “somebody [could have] flicked a cigarette butt out of their car as they passed the Hartigs’ home. It has nothing to do with the crime scene.”
Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger then asked whether the crux of the issue was a “different animal” — not simply excluding Noling and one of his co-defendants, but “absolutely identifying a specific person.”
Vigluicci replied: “If this was DNA that was found on the victim, or semen, or [saliva], or blood or something tested initially and it was inconclusively determined, ‘We don’t know who it is,’ then you’re right. Then it would be important, but that’s not this animal.”
After 38 minutes of oral arguments — eight minutes over what had been the allotted time for both sides — Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said the matter would be taken under advisement.
The high court’s decision, likely months away, would not actually grant Noling new testing of the cigarette butt. What it would do, as the defense has requested, is send the issue back to a lower court for reconsideration.
There have been two previous denials of a new round of tests in Portage County Common Pleas Court — based on Noling’s exclusion as the contributor of the DNA on the butt.
"Alliance man on death row pins hopes on DNA test," is the Canton Repository report by Ed Balint.
Carrie Wood, an attorney with the Ohio Innocence Project, said she wants to determine if the cigarette butt matches the DNA profile of Daniel Wilson that is stored in a federal database.
Wilson, convicted of murder in another case, was executed in 2009. He lived near the elderly couple’s home. Wood said that a previous DNA test did not exclude Wilson as the source. Testing technology has advanced since then and can pinpoint DNA to one person, she said.
At issue was whether state law allows more DNA testing in the case.
Under a law passed by the Ohio General Assembly in 2010, biological evidence can be retested if there’s a strong likelihood the results would determine the perpetrator of the crime.
State law allows for “more DNA testing, not less,” Wood said.
The Aurora Advocate report is, "Ohio Supreme Court hears arguments in Portage County murder case," by Marc Kovac.
Noling was convicted for the April 1990 murder of the Hartigs, an elderly couple found shot to death in the kitchen of their home in Atwater.
Noling was twice indicted for the crime and convicted about five years later, based on testimony of three other young men who were involved with him in a string of robberies in Alliance, according to documents. He was sentenced to death for the crime.
But Noling has maintained his innocence throughout the proceedings, and his co-defendants recanted their testimony, according to a merit brief filed by Noling's legal counsel.
Noling also has argued that there is evidence of potential other perpetrators, including Daniel Wilson, who was executed in 2009 for the murder of a woman who he locked in the trunk of a car before setting it on fire.
Noling wants a cigarette butt found in the driveway outside the Hartigs home tested to see if it matches Wilson's DNA. Earlier tests by law enforcement determined the cigarette was not smoked by Noling or his co-defendants.
WKSU-FM, Cleveland Public Radio posts, "An Ohio case raises big questions about DNA and confessions," by M.L. Schultze.
Tyrone Noling has been on death row since 1996, when he was convicted of killing an elderly Portage County couple in their home six years earlier. He confessed to a role in killing Cora and Bearnhardt Hartig; so did his codefendants.
But they all recanted. And Noling’s lawyer, Carrie Wood, says another man confessed to the killing, not to police but to others.
Dan Wilson can no longer be questioned himself.
The state executed him in 2009 for locking his girlfriend in a trunk and setting the car ablaze. So Wood is pushing the state to test the DNA found on a cigarette butt in the Hartig’s driveway. Not because it will exclude Noling; that’s already been done. But because it could implicate Wilson.Justice Paul Pfeifer was the state senator who was instrumental in reintroducing the death penalty in Ohio. He’s since become one of its biggest critics. But during oral arguments, he was the justice who pressed Wood the hardest on why anyone would confess to a crime he didn’t commit.
“There are a whole host of folks who want to take credit for this for some reason.”
“Mr. Noling’s three co-defendants, all at the time very young boys, have all since recanted those statements…one recanted prior to trial”
“Why would you admit to a double murder that implicates yourself? What’s the motivation for doing that?”
“There are a whole host of reasons why false confessions occur, your honor. And there have been multiple cases where DNA shows that false confessions occurred. … And when you have young men under the threat of a death penalty, under intense interrogation, those are all factors.”
Earlier coverage of Tyrone Noling's case begins at the link.