After 34 years in prison Indiana County man freed thanks to DNA evidence
Indiana County man leaves his shackles behind after his murder conviction is vacated
August 13, 2015 11:02 PM
Lewis Fogle with his wife, Deb, chokes with emotion after his release from the State Correctional Institution at Pine Grove, Indiana Co., Thursday afternoon.
Photo courtesy of Innocence Project
Mr. Fogle and his wife, Deb, in a photo taken before his arrest in March 1981.
Lewis Fogle, with his wife, Deb, after his released from the State Correctional Institution at Pine Grove Thursday afternoon. Fogle, who spent 34 years imprisoned for the 1976 murder of a 15-year-old girl, was released after DNA tests proved his was not the person who committed the crime.
By Michael A. Fuoco / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A mere seven minutes was all it took for Lewis Fogle to have his world returned.
More than half of his 63 years had been spent behind bars, which made the brevity of the Indiana County Court hearing that freed him from prison Thursday that much more dynamic.
Following that briefest of legal proceedings, he no longer was Pennsylvania inmate AP7750, convicted of second-degree murder in 1982 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Instead, for the first time in 34 years since his arrest in March 1981 when Ronald Reagan was in his third month as president, he was free.
Senior Judge David Grine of Centre County vacated the conviction of Mr. Fogle because new DNA evidence excluded him as being the source of semen found on the body of Deann Katherine Long, 15, of Cherry Tree, Indiana County. She had been raped and shot in the head in July 1976; her body was found in a rural area a short distance from her home.
Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty joined in the motion to vacate the conviction with attorneys for the New York-based Innocence Project and the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, who represented Mr. Fogle. Mr. Dougherty said he was duty bound to do so given the new DNA findings. He has until a hearing Sept. 14 to decide whether other evidence is enough to prosecute Mr. Fogle again on a second-degree murder charge in the case.
Mr. Dougherty was quick to draw a distinction between Mr. Fogle, who is on unsecured bond until the hearing, having “actual innocence” and having his conviction vacated for lack of evidence.
“[The vacated conviction] doesn’t mean he’s innocent. It simply means there is not enough evidence to convict. It is a technicality, but it is worth giving Mr. Fogle his relief,” he said after the hearing.
“Part of my role is to prosecute, but I also have a duty, and I took an oath not to have somebody in jail that shouldn’t be there.”
Mr. Dougherty said he had spoken to the victim’s family during the process leading up to the hearing and they understood what was occurring and why.
“The reaction of the family is they are disappointed and have questions and concerns as would any victim’s family,” he said, but added they understood that a conviction is only just if evidence backs it up.
David Loftis, managing attorney of the Innocence Project, said he feels it is unlikely Mr. Dougherty will retry the case. He praised Mr. Dougherty for joining in the motion to vacate after “recognizing the significance” the DNA testing excluding Mr. Fogle.
“It was never a strong case. The DNA evidence is pretty powerful, pretty conclusive,” Mr. Loftis said. “We knew from investigating and speaking with [Mr. Fogle] that he was absolutely innocent so the question for us was whether we could prove that objectively with scientific truth and certainty. … We were able to uncover the evidence that proved his innocence.”
Wearing a red prison jumpsuit, hands and legs shackled to his waist, Mr. Fogle was calm at the hearing, almost surreally so, given what was at stake after so long. He stared straight ahead, toward the judge, toward the motto on the wall that seemed somehow larger than normal: “No man is above the law and no man is below.”
Six hours later, after he was finally released from state custody, he wore blue street clothes, no shackles, and a broad smile as he breathed in freedom for the first time in more than three decades. He said he was unemotional at the hearing because he just couldn’t believe it was truly happening.
And, really, after such a long time, how could he?
He was jailed before phones were smart, computers were ubiquitous, and George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama were elected as presidents. While he was on the inside, mass shootings at schools and the attacks of 9/11 happened on the outside. NASA visited all of the planets, and here on Earth, gay marriage became the law of the land. And so much more, large and small.
Mr. Fogle said now that he was free, he felt relief and was thankful for the Innocence Project believing in him and taking up his cause.
“I think when it really sunk in [that I would be freed] was today in the court room,” he said with his family gathered around him, just outside the State Correctional Institution at Pine Grove in Indiana County where he was processed out of the correctional system.
“I never showed emotions yet because I’ve been let down too many times. I wanted to wait until there was no chance of being let down. ... I couldn’t see giving up and making people think I was guilty for something I didn’t do.”
His wife, Deb, whom he married three months before his arrest, likewise never gave up hope. “I love him,” she said.
Mr. Fogle said he wouldn’t call himself bitter, “but I don’t like how I was arrested and convicted, though.” He pointed in particular to the testimony of three inmates who testified at his trial that he confessed to them in jail, which Mr. Fogle said were lies.
Also arrested in the case were his brother, Dennis, and two other men, but Mr. Fogle was the only person to be tried — charges against two of the other suspects were dropped for lack of evidence and those against his brother were dismissed for violating speedy trial rules. One of the other former suspects has since died.
Mr. Fogle conceded that being free in today’s world is a little overwhelming for him right now. “I don’t know how to even order a sandwich today. I have no idea how to run a computer or anything like that. They scare the heck out of me.”
Dealing with all of that could wait, though. “I would love to get me a steak.”
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