New evidence leads to Indiana County man's freedom after 34 years
For 34 years, convicted murderer Lewis Jim Fogle told anyone who would listen that he was an innocent man.
On Thursday, his plea for freedom was answered in an Indiana County courtroom when a judge said new DNA evidence did not point to Fogle as the person who raped and killed a 15-year-old girl in a wooded area near her home in the summer of 1976.
As he left SCI-Pine Grove where he traded his prison-issued orange jumpsuit for jeans and a blue shirt, Fogle, 63, said he never stopped believing the truth would emerge about the murder of Deann Katherine Long near her Green Township home in northern Indiana County and his life sentence would be set aside.
“I never gave up (hope),” Fogle said. “That's one thing I could never do was give up hope.”
Although the DNA findings did not point to who might have killed Long, visiting Senior Judge David Grine said the results “excluded” Fogle from being the person who raped and killed her.
Members of Long's family were not present to hear the judge's ruling, and when contacted later, her sister Lola Long declined to comment about Fogle's release.
The victim, known to friends and family as Kathy, was at her parents' home along Route 580 on July 30 when a man knocked on the door, claiming her older brother Leonard had been in a car accident, Lola Long said in a 2011 Tribune-Review interview.
The teenager got in the car with the man, and her body was found the next day, her sister said.
As Fogle, his wife, Deb, and family members left the prison grounds, he said he started to believe he might be released once he stepped into the courtroom Thursday morning.
“I feel great. I hoped this day would come. Sometimes it seemed like it was never going to come,” he said.
Their first stop would be at a restaurant.
“I'd like to get me a steak,” Fogle said. “I haven't had beef for a long, long time. We get suet instead of beef, and I don't like suet.”
But Fogle's freedom could be short-lived.
He will remain free until at least Sept. 14, District Attorney Patrick Dougherty's deadline for deciding whether to retry him on a second-degree murder charge or drop the case.
Attorneys for the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization committed to exonerating wrongly convicted people, said new DNA testing on evidence in the case points to another, unidentified male.
In Pennsylvania, DNA testing has been used to exonerate 11 people since 1991, six of them involving The Innocence Project, group spokesman Paul Cates said.
Nationally, 330 people have been released from prisons through DNA evidence, 176 of them through the efforts of The Innocence Project, he said.
From the beginning, the Long case was marked by stops, starts and long delays.
It was not until five years after the murder that state police arrested Fogle, along with his brother Dennis Fogle, Joseph Victor Receskey and John Robert Lynch.
Only Lewis Fogle was convicted in Long's death.
In 2010, Dennis Fogle pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in Mifflin County. He was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison. Receskey died in March 2010 at 59. Lynch's whereabouts could not be determined.
Lewis Fogle was tried separately in the Long case.
A turning point happened when three inmates testified that he incriminated himself to them. They claimed the brothers raped Long and Lewis Fogle shot her.
It was that testimony, in part, that led to Fogle's conviction by a jury in 1982, Innocence Project attorneys said.
Marissa Bluestone, legal director of the group's Pennsylvania chapter, blasted the use of such tainted testimony to convict defendants.
She said it has “contributed to 15 percent of those wrongly convicted and later proven innocent by DNA evidence. This type of evidence is inherently unreliable and should never serve as the sole basis for prosecuting someone.”
Two weeks after Fogle's conviction, prosecutors dropped murder charges against Receskey and Lynch, citing lack of evidence. Dennis Fogle's case was dismissed in March 1982 because the state violated speedy trial rules, Dougherty said.
Dougherty said he has not decided whether to refile charges against Fogle. He said he and state police are reviewing evidence.
He noted there is a difference between being innocent of a crime and not being prosecuted for lack of evidence.
“We are working with the state police to continue to examine evidence to see if we have sufficient evidence to move the case forward,” he said
David Loftis, managing attorney with The Innocence Project, praised the decision to release Fogle.
“It's a wonderful day for Mr. Fogle and for his family,” he said. “He's waited 34 years to prove his innocence.”
Loftis said he believes Fogle will stay a free man.
“I anticipate that (Dougherty) will not retry the case,” Loftis said.
Fogle, who was 24 at the time of Long's death, wrote to the Innocence Project from SCI-Albion in Erie, where he spent most of his sentence.
Earlier DNA testing of crime-scene evidence proved inconclusive, according to the Innocence Project. Further testing was done this year, and sperm left on the victim's body excluded Fogle and pointed to another male, attorneys said.
While Fogle is free on $25,000 bond, awaiting Dougherty's decision, he must report his whereabouts to authorities and stay in Pennsylvania. He also must report to the county probation office every two weeks and stay away from Long's family, according to Grine's order.
Dougherty said Long's family is “disappointed” but understands the role DNA can play in criminal cases.
“We weren't able to do this with DNA in the 1980s, and I think the family understands that,” he added.
Fogle and his wife, Deb, were married for three months before he was arrested.
“We're just so happy,” she said, surrounded by family and attorneys.
“It's been a long process. We were always hopeful (about a release). … I love him,” she said.
Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or [email protected].