Tyrone Noling was sentenced to death by the State of Ohio for the murders of an elderly couple. According to court documents Tyrone Noling and three accomplices would murder Bearnhardt and Cora Hartig during a robbery. Tyrone Noling would be arrested (3 years later), convicted and sentenced to death.
Tyrone Noling 2021 Information
Gender Male Race White
Admission Date 07/05/1990
Institution Chillicothe Correctional Institution
Tyrone Noling More News
In a decision issued today, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that death row inmate Tyrone Noling can have access to only part of the powerful DNA evidence his legal team says could point to another killer.
Last June, Noling’s attorney, Brian Howe of the Ohio Innocence Project, asked that the court permit Noling to test shell casings and ring boxes collected at the scene of a 1990 double murder in Atwater, Ohio for touch DNA. (Skin cells left behind on objects that have been touched or handled.)
The second request: That Noling be allowed to compare any DNA pulled from those casings and ring boxes to an existing DNA profile, one taken from a cigarette butt found in the driveway of the ranch home of Bearnhardt and Cora Hartig 27 years ago.
While the high court judges said Noling could have the full DNA profile lifted from the discarded cigarette butt — something lower courts have denied him — to run through criminal data bases in search of a match, they rejected his request to test additional evidence. The ruling is a blow to Noling’s attempts to use the power of DNA to prove someone else murdered the longtime married couple.
To date, that other evidence — shell casings from a .25-caliber handgun that the killer would have touched while loading the weapon and ransacked jewelry boxes that were also likely handled by the killer — has not been tested.
Though the Hartigs were killed in April of 1990, Noling wasn’t tried for the murders until 1993. At the time, the state’s official crime lab, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, known as BCI, didn’t have sophisticated enough technology to test samples for touch DNA without destroying them.
After a visual inspection of the ring boxes and shell casings, BCI determined that too many people had handled the evidence during its collection and storage, and concluded the samples were contaminated and untestable. The trial court accepted BCI’s assessment.
In his oral arguments before the Ohio Supreme Court last summer, Howe contended that simply looking at the evidence isn’t enough, and asked that Cellmark, a private lab with more state-of-the-art technology at its disposal, be allowed to test the evidence for usable DNA.
He reasoned that if DNA could be harvested from the casings and the boxes, it could be tested against the existing DNA profile pulled from the cigarette butt, possibly revealing the identity of the person who fired five bullets into Cora and three into her husband Bearnhardt. With today’s ruling, such a comparison can never be made.
In the opinion, the Supreme Court justices upheld the trial judge’s decision not to conduct additional tests on the casings and boxes.
“If ever a case cried out for the most extensive and reliable DNA testing available, it would be that of Tyrone Noling,” Howe said in a statement released in response to the ruling
“Mr. Noling is an innocent man who has spent two decades on Ohio’s death row, despite zero physical evidence against him, despite compelling alternate suspects, and despite the recantation of every one of the state’s key witnesses.
“Other parts of today’s ruling have troubling and far-reaching implications for the innocent men and women still incarcerated and on death row,” Howe continued. “The ruling denies Mr. Noling access to key DNA evidence, including scientifically appropriate testing that could conclusively identify the perpetrator of the crime.”
Though no physical evidence has ever linked Noling to the crime – no fingerprints, no hair, no gun – he sits on Ohio’s death row, sentenced as the triggerman who executed the seniors based solely on the testimony of three alleged accomplices. Every member of that trio has recanted his testimony. All say they lied after being coached and threatened by a prosecutor’s investigator.
Police have never found the murder weapon and blood tests have determined that neither Noling nor the three men prosecutors say were with him when he committed the crime smoked the cigarette recovered at the Hartig’s place. Neither of the Hartigs smoked.
Sentenced to death for the murders he says he did not commit when he was 23, Noling, now 45, has been fighting for access to DNA testing for nearly a decade.
In his statement, Howe took aim at BCI,saying that in Noling’s case, instead of using science to determine the suitability of evidence for testing, “BCI used guess work and assumptions.”
Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci defended the lab, saying BCI is “the premiere lab in the state of Ohio that tests evidence from every case that we present and . . . is always found to be accurate and reliable.” Questioning its practices and results would open a Pandora’s Box, he argued.
That Pandora’s Box is worth opening Howe said in today’s statement.
“Although [BCI’s] same assumptions have been proven wrong time and time again, in Ohio and across the country, today’s decision fails to hold BCI and other labs to any minimum methodological standards. That means Mr. Noling may never receive DNA testing on shell casings and ring boxes touched by the actual perpetrator.”
The court determined that it was up to testing authorities to decide whether samples were too contaminated, and that a lab could make that decision any way it wanted — even if that meant only eyeballing the samples.
“Thus,” the court wrote, “it was sufficient for BCI to use a visual examination to determine that the shell casings and ring boxes were contaminated and not suitable for further DNA testing.”
That’s a slippery slope, says Howe. “The determination has to have some kind of grounding in science – otherwise, you open the door to all kinds of absurdity.”