The discovery of a black Labrador named Lucy has helped crack a criminal case on September 10 against a man from Oregon who had started serving a 50-year sentence behind bars. Joshua Horner, a plumber from the town of Redmond in Central Oregon, was convicted on April 12, 2017, for sexually abusing a minor.
In the trial, the minor had testified that the plumber threatened to shoot her animals if she told authorities about the alleged abuse. She had even claimed that she saw Horner shoot and kill her dog to prove his point. About six months after the jury's verdict, although not unanimous, convicted the man, he turned to an organization called the Oregon Innocence Project for help. The group agreed to take up his case.
The New York Post reported that the group took their concerns about the case to Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel in April and he agreed to work with them. Horner had maintained that he did not shoot the dog and the priority for everyone involved in the case was to find the animal. If Lucy was alive, she was definitely hidden somewhere and this would prove that the complainant lied under oath.
THREAD: @ORInnocence is thrilled to announce its first exoneration! Welcome Home Josh Horner! #ThisisInnocence 1/ pic.twitter.com/P9bZ7HuPH1— Oregon Innocence Project (@ORInnocence) September 10, 2018
A volunteer from the group and an official from Hummel's office set off looking for the dog. It was reported that the Lab had been given away and even though investigators were on the trail of the missing pooch, they still found it difficult to track down the alleged owner.
Steve Wax, the legal director for the Oregon Innocence Project, said: "They made a couple of trips around Deschutes County; he was not there. We heard he was in Seattle. Then we learned he had a place on the Oregon Coast."
Finally, in the town of Gearhart to the Northwest of Portland, the volunteer and official found Lucy after the owners agreed to meet them at the golf course. Lisa Christon, the volunteer with the Project, said: "She was drinking a bowl of water and sitting in the shade underneath a porch. We played with her. Petted her. It was wonderful."
The dog was identified by the unquestionable custody chain as well as her looks. Christon said: "She’s a very distinctive-looking black Lab; not purebred. She’s got this adorable shaped head and really long ears." The district attorney said the key evidence was able to show that the complainant had lied while testifying in the court.
Hummel's office said in a statement: "Lucy the dog was not shot. Lucy the dog is alive and well." The district attorney said in the court on September 10 that he is not sure if Horner had sexually abused the minor but he is now not convinced that he did. Michael Adler, the Deschutes County Judge, dismissed the case.
Horner thanked the Oregon Innocence Project, his family, friends, and Hummel in a statement that was released by the group. He said, referring to his wife: "Kelli and I are ready to pick up the pieces of our lives." The couple was spotted coming out of the courthouse holding hands and smiling.
Our client can now begin to rebuild his life with his wife and friends to support him. We could not have given Josh his life back without the support of our donors. Thank you for supporting our work! #innocence #Oregon https://t.co/WVXLQutqm2 Picture by Jenny Coleman pic.twitter.com/SWUMDeMGlX— Oregon Innocence Project (@ORInnocence) September 10, 2018
The plumber was seen on August 3 walking out of the state prison in Pendelton after the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed his conviction and subsequently ordered a new trial. The appeals court said that Horner's lawyers had not been allowed to present some evidence that was unrelated to Lucy. Horner does not have to face that second trial anymore.
After the dog was found, Hummel said that the complainant did not attend a meeting in August to talk about her testimony. On September 5, one of Hummel's investigators found that she was at a home close to Redmond but when he pulled up to the driveway, she fled.
Hummel said in an email that the story of Lucy being shot and killed was brought up for the first time during the trial so there had not been any investigation regarding this before that. He wrote: "We had no credible reason to question the statement after it was made." He also said that exonerations are now a reminder that even though the US has "the best system of justice in the world, it is not perfect. Mistakes will be made and we should be judged by how we respond to them."
Wax had been Oregon's former top public defender for about 31 years before he joined the Oregon Innocence Project. He said that this particular case is very unusual. In a telephonic interview, he said: "To be able to establish that a person should not have been convicted, you need something objective. In most child sex abuse cases, there is no evidence. Finding Lucy alive showed the complainant lied under oath in her testimony."
The group was started in 2014 to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and promote legal reforms and Josh Horner's case is the first exoneration for the Oregon Innocence Project. Wax has since commended Hummel for his willingness to look into the case even after a conviction. He said: "Nationwide, what Mr. Hummel did was unusual. It is to be commended. It should be the model."