Court orders DNA testing in case of man convicted of area murder 3 decades ago

Prosecutor says he’s confident of inmate’s guilt despite request from Ohio Innocence Project.

In 1992, Guy Billy Lee Scott was granted a change of venue for a trial in a Preble County murder case. It was moved one county away.

Scott was accused of raping and killing Lesa Buckley in the summer of July 1990 at a party at Cedar Lake in New Paris. The case was transferred to Butler County, where the late Common Pleas Judge George Elliott presided over the jury trial.

Now 60, Scott is serving a 15-years-to-life in prison sentence by a Butler County jury after conviction for murder, rape and assault. Various legal appeals have been denied over the years, including in 2020 when the 12th District Court Of Appeals upheld the trial court’s denial of a petition for DNA testing of Buckley’s rape kit and fingernail scrapings.

But Scott’s attorneys from the Ohio Innocence Project Cincinnati Law took the case to the Ohio Supreme Court and won. In December 2022, the Supreme Court ordered the evidence in the case be DNA tested.

Attorney Donald Caster argued a DNA test, which did not exist when the crime was committed, excluding Scott would be persuasive evidence that he did not kill Buckley.

The motion pointed to an apparent post-conviction recantation by an eyewitness who testified at trial. The Butler County trial court, now assigned to Common Pleas Judge Michael Oster, determined DNA exclusion would not have altered the outcome of the trial and the jury verdict because of overwhelming evidence.

The appeals court agreed, stating the trial court did not err in denying petition because the conviction was based on substantial eyewitnesses who attended the party the night Buckley died and circumstantial evidence, including Scott is the person who found Buckley’s body in the lake.

Scott offered an alternative suspect in Buckley’s murder and suggested the eyewitness lied in court due to a plot to convict him by a family member of Buckley and a family member of one of two men he shot and killed in New Paris a year before.

Multiple shootings

In July 1991, Scott was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter after a Preble County trial for multiple New Paris shootings. He was acquitted of murder in the fatal shooting of the second man and not guilty of attempted murder for the shooting of the third man. The first trial and pre-trial publicity in the Buckley case were reasons cited for moving the second trial to a neighboring county.

But the claim by the witness years later that he was asked to give false testimony in retaliation for the fatal shooting was questionable because Scott had not yet been tried for the triple shooting, the appeals court said in the opinion.

Caster said after the appeals court ruling, “We think this is a case that under the law, Mr. Scott is entitled to testing. And we think it would prove once and for all whether or not he was the person involved in these crimes.”

The supreme court accepted the Scott application for post-conviction relief asking for DNA testing and, in December 2021, held oral arguments. A year later, the court ruled in Scott’s favor, ordering the trial court to have the evidence tested.

“We conclude that the trial court and the court of appeals abused their discretion by unreasonably concluding that there is not a strong probability that a reasonable factfinder would have found Scott guilty if a DNA test result excluding Scott had been presented at trial,” the Supreme Court opinion states. “We do not reach this decision lightly. The horrible events leading to Buckley’s death are not ones that her family and friends should have to relive so many years later. But the specter of a wrongful conviction in light of available but untested DNA evidence is something the legislature has sought to prevent by making postconviction testing available. And assurance that the public is protected because the actual offender is behind bars depends on the confidence of the conviction. ”

Tests ‘can cut both ways’

The high court also made it clear the decision is not opinion of guilt or innocence.

“To be clear, our decision is limited to Scott’s application for postconviction DNA testing and should not be read as any commentary on whether Scott may be entitled to other postconviction relief aimed at overturning his conviction,” the high court opinion states.

And in a final word, the opinion says, “Worth noting is the fact that additional DNA testing may not yield an inmate’s expected results. In other words, testing can cut both ways for an applicant. Testing may, indeed, lead to the exoneration of one wrongfully convicted, but can also further implicate the inmate or simply have a neutral effect.”

Preble County Prosecutor Martin Votel said he is “100 percent certain” of Scott’s guilt. Both Votel and Caster are working on an entry for Oster sign ordering the evidence, which is in the possession of the Preble County Sheriff’s Office, transported to a lab for DNA testing.

It is a waiting game now to see the outcome and what the testing could mean for Scott and the prosecution.

“It was undisputed that she had one or perhaps two consensual sex partners within several days of her death,” Votel said. “So it the DNA of an unknown third party is found on those swabs, it will not be surprising and not necessarily exculpatory.”

The prosecutor also noted Buckley’s body was in the water for a period of time so that could be a contributing factor for no DNA being found.

“This issue will either put it to bed because his (Scott’s) DNA is the only one found. If his DNA is not found or if a third party known or unknown is there, then we will have to go down the road to litigate a motion for new trial, Votel said.

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