Lewis Fogle has plenty of catching up to do to integrate into modern society, and now he knows he’ll have the time to do it.
Lewis Fogle, who spent the last 34 years in prison serving a life sentence as a convicted murderer, got his first taste of freedom last month when an Indiana County judge ruled that new DNA evidence excluded him as the person involved in the 1976 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl in rural Green Township.
Fogle, along with his counsel and family, and Dougherty were in court for just a few minutes Monday afternoon, long enough for Dougherty to tell Grine that he would not pursue the case, citing lack of prosecutorial merit. Grine also entered the decision with prejudice, meaning Fogle cannot be retried for the crime. Marissa Bluestine, legal director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, said outside on the courthouse lawn that the decision to eliminate any further prosecution was at their request and Dougherty had not opposed it.
Outside the courthouse Fogle faced an array of reporters and cameras beside his wife, Deb, and his counsel.
His first priority, he said, has been to get to know his family.
He described his month out of prison as “stepping out into a world you don’t really know anything about. Just nothing’s the same, even Indiana here. It changed all around.”
He told reporters that he doesn’t know how to use the Internet or a cellphone and doesn’t “even know how to work on a car anymore.”
Lawyers from the Innocence Project wouldn’t comment on whether Fogle will seek compensation from the state, saying it was too early for a decision. Pennsylvania has no system of compensation for wrongful conviction and Fogle’s only recourse would be through the courts.
Dougherty said his office is treating the murder of Deanne K. Long as an open homicide and will pursue all leads. He said Monday that so far he has no new leads.
Long was 15 years old when she was found raped and shot to death in Green Township in 1976. Fogle and three others were initially charged in the crime, but only Fogle went to trial and was convicted.
DNA evidence only recently discovered strongly suggests Fogle did not rape Long and instead pointed to an unidentified man. Previously charged were Joseph V.
Receskey, John R. Lynch and Fogle’s brother, Dennis Fogle. Receskey died in 2010.
Dara Gell, a law student from New York with the Innocence Project, was the one who found the crucial evidence, the pubic hair combings from Long, that eventually led to the overturned conviction. Gell said her mission was to track down the evidence related to the case, a tough task when there is no standardized system of evidence logging throughout the commonwealth. Fogle and his lawyers were told the evidence could not be found.
Karen Thompson was the staff attorney assigned to the case from the beginning of the Innocence Project’s involvement. When asked how it felt to be at the final stage of the case, she said, “fantastic.”
“That’s why we do it. That’s why we’re here. I think we’re one of those few organizations that wishes we were out of business so we didn’t have to do this. It has been an honor to represent Mr. Fogle.”
“It’s been an honor having you,” Fogle replied. “At least I had some attorneys that actually loved their job.”
The lawyers praised Fogle for the legal work he did while in prison. It was mostly by book as he isn’t computer literate. He said he got some help from someone in prison who looked things up on a computer for him when he couldn’t find what he needed in hard copy.
But it was upon his work that the Innocence Project was able to build the case, his lawyers said.
“He was phenomenal in his participation in the case,” Loftis said.
Bluestine said Pennsylvania’s laws regarding post-conviction are some of the strictest in the country, and no one has a right to post-conviction counsel.
“People like Mr. Fogle have a hard time getting back into court,” she said.
Fogle said he has been offering the same arguments and pleas for a reconsideration of his case for years, but it all fell on deaf ears.
The Innocence Project took up Fogle’s case in 2008. They praised the Indiana County District Attorney’s office for its “extraordinary cooperation.”
Fogle’s family brought to the courthouse several of the paintings he did while in prison. He figures he made about 100 of them. He has about 23 left after selling or giving them away. Fogle said local artists Margaret “Peggy” Blosser and Barbara Fritsch helped him acquire photos on which the paintings were based.
He said he has two local offers to teach painting on a volunteer basis.
Fogle and Loftis both said Pennsylvania should have a system of compensation in place for those who are wrongly accused.
“Being my age, no one is going to want to hire me,” Fogel said. “What am I supposed to do for the rest of my life?”