By Associated Press - Wednesday, January 29, 2020

An appellate court has ordered a new trial for an Ohio man in the murder of a state police informant more than a decade and a half ago in western Pennsylvania.

The (Washington) Observer-Reporter reports that the Superior Court reversed the conviction of 43-year-old Michael Duncan of of Amherst, Ohio in the murder of 45-year-old John Newman. Newman was shot in his car near his home in the borough of California in February 2003.

The judges said Duncan’s trial attorney had failed to question a key witness about an immunity deal he received for his testimony alleging that Duncan had planned the slaying with a co-defendant. The court said the victim was helping police investigate allegations that Duncan’s co-defendant was dealing Oxycodone.

Duncan was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy and sentenced to life plus 15 to 30 years. He and his co-defendant asserted their innocence at sentencing in 2012, with Duncan telling the judge that he could accept a sentence for being a drug dealer, but not a murderer. He said “I’m an innocent man. I’ll believe that ‘til I die.”

His current attorney, Stephen Paul, said all his client has ever wanted is a fair trial and “he’s ecstatic that he has the opportunity to defend himself.”

County prosecutors haven’t indicated whether they plan to appeal the decision.

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