UNITED STATES NEWS

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

FILE - President Joe Biden arrives on Marine One in Mountain View, Calif., for a campaign fundraise...

Associated Press

Biden backed off a pledge to abolish the federal death penalty. That’s left an opening for Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — As he prepared to take office three years ago, Joe Biden’s incoming administration considered a host of possible options to fulfill a campaign pledge to end the federal death penalty. One idea was an executive order, according to people familiar with the matter. But the White House did not issue one or […]

34 minutes ago

FILE- This undated photograph released by the U.S. military's Central Command shows what is describ...

Associated Press

4 charged with transporting Iranian-made weapons face detention hearings in US court

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Four crew members of an unflagged vessel that U.S. officials say was carrying Iranian-made missile components are scheduled to appear Tuesday in a federal courtroom in Virginia, where prosecutors are expected to argue they should be held without bond while they await trial. The night of Jan. 11, U.S. Central Command […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Man pleads guilty in deaths of 2 officers at Virginia college in 2022 and is sentenced to life

HARRISONBURG, Va. (AP) — A man who had been scheduled for trial in the shooting deaths of two popular police officers at a Virginia college in 2022 instead pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. Alexander Campbell, 29, pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Bridgewater College […]

3 hours ago

FILE - Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen testifies before a House Financial Services Committee hearin...

Associated Press

Yellen urges world leaders to ‘unlock’ frozen Russian Central Bank assets and send them to Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Tuesday offered her strongest public support yet for the idea of liquidating roughly $300 billion in frozen Russian Central Bank assets and using them for Ukraine’s long-term reconstruction. “It is necessary and urgent for our coalition to find a way to unlock the value of these immobilized […]

4 hours ago

Middle class is shrinking, lower case is growing, Valley economist says...

KTAR.com

Middle-class Americans may not be able to afford a home, Valley economist says

Why is the middle class shrinking? Is the U.S. economy growing? Valley economist Jim Rounds answered these questions on Monday.

4 hours ago

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) leaves a House Republican conference meeting on Capitol Hill on April 27, ...

Kevin Stone

Rep. Debbie Lesko excited about her future in Arizona, frustrated with Washington politics

U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko said she’s excited about the next chapter of her Arizona political career while expressing frustration about her tenure in Washington.

5 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Valley residents should be mindful of plumbing ahead of holidays

With Halloween in the rear-view and more holidays coming up, Day & Night recommends that Valley residents prepare accordingly.

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