New DNA testing could clear men convicted of murdering a Tonawanda mother in 1993

Erie County

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Two men are hoping that new DNA testing will be enough to vacate their convictions for the 1993 murder of Deborah Meindl in her City of Tonawanda home.

It was February of 1993 when a young mother was stabbed and strangled in her home in the City of Tonawanda. Two men were sentenced to murder. Brian Scott Lorenz is still in prison for it, and James Pugh, who was paroled in 2019, maintained his innocence from the start.

“I know nothing of this crime. I know nothing about the husband I don’t know this family and I’m not a murderer,” said Pugh at his sentencing in may of 1994.

On Wednesday, Pugh was in State Supreme Court where his attorneys are asking a judge to vacate the murder conviction based on improved DNA testing which excludes any traces of Pugh or Lorenz at the murder scene.

“The one and only thing the jury heard about DNA is that blood under Mrs. Meindl’s fingernails was her own blood,” said Ilaan Mazzel, the attorney representing Lorenz. “So there was no meaningful DNA produced at all at trial.”

MORE | David Sweat moved to fourth different prison since 2015 escape

The attorneys are taking it even further by claiming they have evidence that the real killer is Richard Matt, who was convicted of murdering his boss, escaped from prison in Dannemora in 2015 and was shot to death while on the run.

Maazel said Mattlived a few blocks away from the victim and was also a very close frond of a lead investigator in the case. “It’s shocking that the lead investigator in the case was investigating a case where his very good friend Richard Matt was a suspect.”

But in court Wednesday, prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gabel said the new DNA evidence also excludes Richard Matt from being at the murder scene. It’s now up to Judge Christopher Burns to decide whether or not to vacate the convictions based on the updated DNA testing.

MORE | Dead prison escapee Richard Matt had WNY ties

“Scott’s been in prison for 28 years and three months, for 10,319 days we think every single day he remains in prison for this crime he didn’t commit is a terrible injustice.”

District Attorney John Flynn would not discuss many elements of the case, but released a statement Wednesday morning dismissing assertions by Maazel that the District Attorney was attempting to block the new evidence.

Read the rest of Flynn’s statement below:

“Any assertion that the two prosecutors initially assigned to investigate this matter were removed from the case or reassigned because I did not agree with their findings is not true. I, along with my entire senior leadership team, several of my senior bureau chiefs and most experienced trial attorneys, disagreed with their conclusions due to a lack of any credible evidence. Both attorneys did not accept my decision with the professionalism expected of career prosecutors. Ultimately, I made the decision to remove both prosecutors from the case.   

While I cannot comment further on personnel matters, I can confirm that both prosecutors were later reassigned after I made the decision to remove them from the case. One prosecutor was relieved of his Bureau Chief position. He continues to work as an Assistant District Attorney in the Appeals Bureau. The other prosecutor was not demoted, but reassigned from the Appeals Bureau to the office’s Felony Trials Bureau.

It is incumbent on defense counsel to submit new, credible evidence that establishes that these defendants did not commit this murder in order to vacate their conviction or re-open the criminal case. Without any new, credible evidence, I will continue to oppose this motion.

I anticipate that all issues raised in this matter will be litigated in the course of the proceedings that will include submissions by both parties and in arguments before the Court. Our office cannot comment further on this matter as the 440 motion is pending.”

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn

Matt is known for his 2015 escape from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, alongside David Sweat.

Weeks after his escape, Matt was shot dead by law enforcement officers. But Sweat was later captured and taken back into custody.

Before their escape, Sweat and Matt were behind bars for murder, and the case of Matt was connected to western New York.

Matt was an Erie County native. More than two decades ago, he was convicted of killing and dismembering North Tonawanda businessman William Rickerson.

Eventually, he ended up spending time in a Mexican prison in relation to a separate homicide.

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Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.

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