Lewis Fogle has spent the last 34 years behind bars for a crime that he insisted he did not commit: killing 15-year-old Deann Katherine “Kathy” Long and leaving her body in the woods.
On Thursday morning, a Pennsylvania judge tossed out Fogle’s conviction, citing new DNA evidence, according to his lawyers.
Centre County Senior Judge David Grine accepted a motion to vacate, which had been filed jointly by Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty and lawyers with the Innocence Project, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Members of Fogle’s family cried during the hour-long proceeding and exchanged hugs following the judge’s ruling, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported. Fogle, now 63, will be freed on $25,000 bail Thursday, according to the paper.
But prosecutors will take 30 days to decide whether to retry Fogle.
Dougherty told reporters he had to join the motion with the Innocence Project lawyers after DNA testing of semen on the Pennsylvania girl’s body didn’t match to Fogle, the Post-Gazette reported.
“We’re saying there isn’t sufficient evidence for a conviction at this time,” Dougherty said. “He may end up not being convicted, but that doesn’t mean he’s innocent; it simply means there is not enough evidence to convict.”
Fogle asked the Innocence Project to represent him, according to the organization. Lawyers tracked down some evidence, which the district attorney agreed should be tested, the group said in a statement.
Those results were inconclusive, but 12 more pieces of evidence from the victim were found in July. Semen from one piece of evidence was tested and excluded Fogle, “pointing to another male as the perpetrator of the crime,” the Innocence Project statement read.
The DNA evidence proves Fogle “had nothing to do with this terrible crime,” Innocence Project managing attorney David Loftis said in a statement. “Now that his conviction has been vacated, we are grateful that he will be reunited with his friends and family today.”
The morning after Kathy Long went missing in 1976, a neighbor found her body in a wooded area about 300 yards from her house in Cherry Tree, Pa., the Associated Press reported at the time. She had suffered a single gunshot wound to her head and had been raped, the Post-Gazette reported.
State police at the time said Kathy’s sister reported that a dark car had stopped in front of their house in the afternoon and that the driver told Kathy that her brother had been in an accident. The man told Kathy that he would drive her to the scene of the accident, and she got into the car.
Fogle and his brother Dennis, as well as two other men, were arrested for the crime in 1981. From the Post-Gazette:
Mr. Fogle, the first to face trial, steadfastly proclaimed his innocence in Deann’s death but nevertheless a jury convicted him of second-degree murder. The key evidence against Mr. Fogle was the testimony of three inmates who said he confessed to them in jail that he and his brother raped Deann and he killed her.
He was the only person to be tried in the case — 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.
Years after the arrests, Kathy Long’s parents received horrifying crank phone calls about their daughter’s rape and murder, sister Lola Long told the Tribune-Review in 2011.
Dougherty told the paper that the Long family was disappointed with the judge’s decision to vacate the conviction.
The next hearing in the case will be Sept. 14.