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

‘Catch-and-kill’ to be described to jurors as testimony resumes in hush money trial of Donald Trump

NEW YORK (AP) — A longtime tabloid publisher was expected Tuesday to tell jurors about his efforts to help Donald Trump stifle unflattering stories during the 2016 campaign as testimony resumes in the historic hush money trial of the former president. David Pecker, the former National Enquirer publisher who prosecutors say worked with Trump and […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

America’s child care crisis is holding back moms without college degrees

AUBURN, Wash. (AP) — After a series of lower-paying jobs, Nicole Slemp finally landed one she loved. She was a secretary for Washington’s child services department, a job that came with her own cubicle, and she had a knack for working with families in difficult situations. Slemp expected to return to work after having her […]

2 hours ago

Several hundred students and pro-Palestinian supporters rally at the intersection of Grove and Coll...

Associated Press

Pro-Palestinian protests sweep US college campuses following mass arrests at Columbia

NEW YORK (AP) — Columbia canceled in-person classes, dozens of protesters were arrested at New York University and Yale, and the gates to Harvard Yard were closed to the public Monday as some of the most prestigious U.S. universities sought to defuse campus tensions over Israel’s war with Hamas. More than 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators who […]

4 hours ago

Ban on sleeping outdoors under consideration in Supreme Court...

Associated Press

With homelessness on the rise, the Supreme Court weighs bans on sleeping outdoors

The Supreme Court is wrestling with major questions about the growing issue of homelessness as it considers a ban on sleeping outdoors.

5 hours ago

Arizona judge declares mistrial in case of rancher who shot migrant...

Associated Press

Arizona judge declares mistrial in the case of a rancher accused of fatally shooting a migrant

An Arizona judge declared a mistrial in the case of rancher accused of killing a Mexican man on his property near the U.S.-Mexico border.

6 hours ago

Associated Press

Trial opens for former Virginia hospital medical director accused of sexual abuse of ex-patients

NEW KENT, Va. (AP) — The former longtime medical director of a Virginia hospital that serves vulnerable children used physical examinations as a “ruse” to sexually abuse two teenage patients, a prosecutor said Monday, while the physician’s attorney “adamantly” denied any inappropriate conduct. The trial of Daniel N. Davidow of Richmond, who for decades served […]

6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.


DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

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