Judge orders new trial in 1993 murder, but discredits theory that prison escapee was the killer

Aug 24, 2023, 10:40 AM | Updated: 11:12 am

A judge has ordered new trials for two men convicted of murdering a woman in 1993 inside her home near Buffalo, New York, but who have always maintained their innocence.

Additional DNA analysis and the fact that the original prosecutors withheld evidence that could’ve helped the defense means the convictions of Brian Scott Lorenz and James Pugh should be overturned, the judge ruled Wednesday.

However, Erie County state Supreme Court Justice Paul Wojtaszek did not credit a sensational claim made during a reexamination of the case: that the real killer was fatally shot by a federal agent.

Deborah Meindl, 33-year-old a nursing student and mother of two, was stabbed dozens of times and strangled inside her home in Tonawanda.

Her husband Donald Meindl, who had a $50,000 life insurance policy on his wife and who was carrying on a relationship with a 17-year-old employee at the Taco Bell he managed, was initially a suspect in her murder but was never charged. Donald Meindl died in May.

Authorities began investigating Lorenz and Pugh on the theory that they were burglarizing the Meindls’ home and killed Deborah Meindl when they were discovered.

Lorenz and Pugh were charged in the case after Lorenz, then under arrest for another crime in Iowa, confessed to murdering Meindl and implicated Pugh. Lorenz later said it was a false confession.

Lorenz, now 52, and Pugh, 61, were convicted of Meindl’s murder although both maintained their innocence. Pugh was paroled in 2019 but Lorenz remains in prison.

The case was reopened in 2018 after defense lawyers convinced a state judge to grant a review of forensic evidence, which found that neither Lorenz’s nor Pugh’s DNA was at the crime scene, including on a knife used in the attack.

Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn appointed two prosecutors from his office to review the case in 2021. Their surprising conclusion was that Matt, who escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora with another convict, was the real killer.

David Sweat, who was recaptured and is back in prison, told authorities that Matt confessed to him that he murdered Deborah Meindl.

In a letter to The New York Times, Sweat claimed that Matt, who was living near the house where the murder occurred, killed Meindl on orders of a police officer, David Bentley, who later helped lead the investigation into her murder.

Bentley, who had a close relationship with Matt, has denied any role in Meindl’s murder.

Flynn rejected the findings of his own prosecutors and opposed the motion to vacate the convictions. A spokesperson for Flynn said the district attorney would appeal the decision.

Wojtaszek did not exonerate either Pugh or Lorenz of the killing, and the judge called the allegation that Matt and Bentley conspired to kill Meindl “nothing more than speculation, conjecture, and surmise without any substantiation or corroboration.”

But Wojtaszek said a new trial was warranted based on the DNA evidence and prosecutors’ failure to disclose that a witness could not identify a crucial piece of evidence: a commemorative coin that supposedly linked Lorenz to the crime.

Lorenz’s attorney praised the judge’s decision vacating the convictions.

“Scott Lorenz has gone through a three-decade nightmare in prison for a crime he did not commit,” Ilann Maazel said Thursday. “Though the world gave up on him, he never gave up on himself or his search for justice. Scott just wants to go home, be with his wife, and live in peace.”

Pugh’s attorney, Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, said it’s “a wonderful new day” for his client, who since his parole has been living with his sister and working as a handyman. “He’s no longer a convicted murderer and he can get on with his life,” Margulis-Ohnuma said.

United States News

Associated Press

New York man who served 18 years for murder acquitted at 2nd trial

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — A New York man who spent 18 years in prison for a murder he said he did not commit was found not guilty at a second trial. Paul Scrimo, 66, was acquitted on Thursday in Nassau County Court in the strangulation death of Ruth Williams in 2000, Newsday reported. Scrimo was […]

4 minutes ago

Associated Press

Judge says she is ending conservatorship between former NFL player Michael Oher and Memphis couple

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee judge said Friday she is ending a conservatorship agreement between former NFL player Michael Oher and a Memphis couple who took him in when he was in high school. Shelby County Probate Court Judge Kathleen Gomes said she is terminating the agreement reached in 2004 that allowed Sean and […]

12 minutes ago

FILE - Wisconsin's Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos talks to reporters at the state Capitol, F...

Associated Press

Former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice refuses to disclose names of others looking at impeachment

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — One of three former Wisconsin Supreme Court justices asked to review possible impeachment of a current justice refused to tell a judge Friday who else was looking into that question. Former Justice David Prosser called a lawsuit alleging violations of the state open meetings law “frivolous,” saying those looking into impeachment […]

25 minutes ago

Karin Engstrom, 82, poses for photos at home, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Seattle. Engstrom recen...

Associated Press

804,000 long-term borrowers are having their student loans forgiven before payments resume this fall

NEW YORK (AP) — Karin Engstrom thought she’d be paying off her federal student loans for the rest of her life. The 82-year-old was shocked when she logged on to check her balance ahead of payments resuming in October and found that more than $175,000 in debt had been erased. She’s one of 804,000 borrowers […]

2 hours ago

FILE - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Costa Mesa, Calif., ...

Associated Press

Trump looks to set up a California primary win with a speech to Republican activists

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Donald Trump will make a personal pitch Friday to California Republicans in a bid to solidify his support in a GOP presidential contest he has dominated for months, while Ron DeSantis and other rivals get another chance to break the front-runner’s momentum with time fast vanishing to reorder the race. Trump’s […]

3 hours ago

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who was elected to the Senate in 1992 and broke gender ba...

Associated Press

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, an advocate for liberal priorities, dies at age 90

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who was elected to the Senate in 1992 and broke gender barriers throughout her long career, has died.

3 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Home moving relocation in Arizona 2023...

BMS Moving

Tips for making your move in Arizona easier

If you're moving to a new home in Arizona, use this to-do list to alleviate some stress and ensure a smoother transition to your new home.



When most diets fail, re:vitalize makes a difference that shows

Staying healthy and losing weight are things many people in Arizona are conscious of, especially during the summer.


Mayo Clinic

Game on! Expert sports physicals focused on you

With tryouts quickly approaching, now is the time for parents to schedule physicals for their student-athlete. The Arizona Interscholastic Association requires that all student-athletes must have a physical exam completed before participating in team practices or competition.

Judge orders new trial in 1993 murder, but discredits theory that prison escapee was the killer