- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday on an appeal involving a death row inmate who sought DNA testing on a cigarette butt found near the scene of the 1990 double murder that led to his sentence.

At issue in Tyrone Noling’s case is whether there is a constitutional appeals process for death row prisoners who have requests for DNA testing denied after a trial is over. A decision from the court could take months.

Noling was convicted of killing Bearnhardt and Cora Hartig, both 81, at their Portage County home in 1990, but he maintains his innocence.

Noling was part of a group involved in home robberies of elderly couples. Three others in the group implicated Noling in the slayings of the Hartigs during a burglary, although they later retracted their statements, saying they had been pressured by police to name Noling as the shooter.

The original DNA tests of a cigarette butt found in the Hartigs’ driveway didn’t match Noling or the others in the group. But Noling contends technological advances make it possible to identify the smoker and determine whether that person was among other previously undisclosed suspects.

Noling is challenging as unconstitutional the part of the law that requires inmates convicted of capital crimes to appeal the trial court’s decision on DNA testing directly to the Ohio Supreme Court rather than through the lower appeals courts. Lower courts do have jurisdiction in non-capital cases.

Prosecutors say Noling has no legal right to appeal decisions about post-conviction DNA tests. They say all DNA evidence that can be analyzed in the case already has been tested, and his appeals should end.

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