PITTSBURGH – A man who spent 34 years in prison for the rape and shooting death of a teenage girl was released from prison Thursday after a judge vacated his murder conviction, citing new DNA evidence.
Lewis Fogle, 63, was freed on bond because he remains charged and could be retried by District Attorney Patrick Dougherty, who filed the joint motion to vacate the conviction with the New York-based Innocence Project.
"We are incredibly grateful to District Attorney Patrick Dougherty for working with us to conduct the DNA testing and for acknowledging that Mr. Fogle's conviction should be set aside," said David Loftis, managing attorney for the Innocence Project.
But Dougherty said his actions and the judge's decision don't mean Fogle has been exonerated in the death and rape of 15-year-old Deann Katherine Long in 1976.
"I am not agreeing that he is actually innocent," Dougherty said. "I also don't want to let somebody out that deserves to be" in prison.
Dougherty is reviewing and attempting to gather more evidence before announcing Sept. 14 whether Fogle will be retried for second-degree murder. In Pennsylvania, that's defined as any killing that occurs during another felony, in this case rape.
Fogle has denied any involvement. He was the only one of four people arrested in March 1981 to be tried. Paul Cates, a spokesman for the Innocence Project, said attorneys don't want Fogle answering questions about the case "because there's too much at stake."
Fogle's wife, Deb Fogle, said they were "always hopeful" he'd be released.
"He's my husband, and I love him," she said tearfully. "We're just so happy today."
Deann's body was found July 31, 1976, by a stranger picking blackberries in the woods. The previous day, Deann's younger sister saw a man telling her their brother had been in a car crash, and the sister later saw her in the man's car.
That man checked himself into a psychiatric facility and was questioned about the killing five times but was never charged. But after he was hypnotized to aid in the investigation, he said he was present when Fogle, his brother and two other men raped the girl before she was shot.
Fogle was tried and convicted after three jailhouse informants testified he confessed to them. Charges against his brother, who is imprisoned for a child sex conviction last year, were dismissed under speedy trial rules. Prosecutors eventually cited a lack of evidence in dropping charges against the other two, one of whom has since died.
Dougherty said the new DNA evidence came from a semen sample gathered from Deann's body using new technology. The tests showed the semen wasn't Fogle's.
"I believe that would have been enough to give him a new trial, and that's all I agreed to do," Dougherty said. He's having the sample tested to see whether it matches any of the others originally charged.
But even if it does, Dougherty said, there may not be enough evidence to retry Fogle.
Witnesses may have died or may not remember as much after all these years, he said.
"The question is, 40 years later, do we have the pieces of the puzzle?" Dougherty said.