According to court documents Tyrone Noling and three accomplices would murder Bearnhardt and Cora Hartig in a robbery
Tyrone Noling would be arrested three years later, convicted and sentenced to death
There is a lot of speculation that Tyrone Noling is innocent of the charges
Tyrone Noling Photos
Tyrone Noling Now
Chillicothe Correctional Institution
Tyrone Noling Case
An Ohio death row inmate has won an appeal granting him the right to review previously withheld records related to the murders of an elderly Atwater couple more than 30 years ago.
In an opinion filed this week, the 11th District Court of Appeals reversed a Portage County Common Pleas Court decision denying Tyrone Lee Noling, 49, access to records that potentially include evidence his trial attorneys were never given.
“There is no excuse for trying to hide evidence in a capital murder case, at any stage of the proceeding,” said Brian Howe, an attorney representing Noling, in a written statement issued Tuesday. “Tyrone Noling is an innocent man on death row, and yesterday’s decision represents an important step forward in his ongoing fight for a fair trial and to clear his name.”
The opinion sends the matter back to the common pleas court for “further proceedings consistent with the opinion.”
Noling was accused of fatally shooting Bearnhardt and Cora Hartig during an apparent robbery in their Moff Road home in April 1990, when Noling was 18. A jury convicted him in 1996 and he was sentenced to death.
Various appeals have been filed on Noling’s behalf in the years since, including to the Ohio Supreme Court. Noling has long denied any involvement in the Hartigs’ deaths. In recent years, the Ohio Innocence Project, an initiative of the University of Cincinnati College of Law that defends those it believes were wrongly convicted of crimes, has taken up Noling’s case. Howe, a law professor, is a staff attorney with the Ohio Innocence Project.
A media release issued Tuesday on behalf of the Ohio Innocence Project states there has never been any physical evidence of Noling’s guilt. It acknowledges that Noling and three other young men also accused of taking part in the robbery were involved in “a handful of minor thefts and two bumbling home robberies, including one in which Mr. Noling accidentally discharged a .25 caliber gun,” the same type of gun used in the Hartig murders. However, these offenses were committed miles away from the Hartig home and “were strikingly different in nature from the cold-blooded murders of the Hartigs.” the release states. Noling’s gun, it said, was not a match for the one used in the murders.
In addition, Noling’s and the other men’s fingerprints and DNA, were not found in the Hartig home and there were no eyewitnesses placing them there.
The three other men all made statements implicating Noling in the Hartig murders, but all three later recanted those statements, claiming that investigators pressured them to make them.
The defense has also argued that there is evidence suggesting two alternative suspects in the Hartig murders, which the appeals court opinion noted.
The foster brother of a man named Daniel E. Wilson made a statement claiming that Wilson admitted to him while intoxicated that he killed the Hartigs. The foster brother said Wilson had been breaking into homes in 1990 and evidence indicated he lived near the Hartigs. Wilson was convicted of aggravated murder for locking a woman in a car trunk and setting it on fire in May 1991 and was executed by lethal injection in June 2009.
In addition, a woman made statements possibly implicating her brother-in-law in the Hartig case. She said that the man borrowed a .25-caliber handgun from her around the time of the murders, telling her he had thrown away his own gun, but without explaining why. The woman said he then contacted her a short time later from the Portage County Sheriff’s Office, where he was turning over the gun for ballistics comparison. She said he asked her to tell authorities that he had borrowed the gun three or four months earlier, but she refused to do so. The borrowed gun was also not a match for the murder weapon, which was never found.
The opinion says the defense obtained evidence of alternative suspects through a public records request to the Portage County Sheriff’s Office, but they claim prosecutors never provided it to his trial attorneys.
“Mr. Noling is seeking a new trial based on exculpatory evidence he claims was not made available to his trial attorneys,” state the Ohio Innocence Project’s media release. “This evidence shows investigators initially had linked other suspects to the Hartig murder.”
Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci could not be reached Thursday for comment.