Central Oregon Man Cleared of Child Sex Abuse Charges After Oregon Innocence Project Intervenes In Case

“If you have no eyewitnesses, no DNA, no physical trauma on the body of the complainant, how do you establish it was a wrongful conviction?”

Josh and his wife Kelli walking out of the courthouse this morning, with Steve Wax, OIP's Legal Director, welcoming them. (Jenny Coleman)

Josh Horner, a 42-year-old plumber from Redmond, Ore., saw a 50-year jail sentence for child sex abuse reversed today after the Portland-based nonprofit Oregon Innocence Project intervened in his case.

Steve Wax, OIP's legal director, tells WW that Horner's daughter first filed charges against him in September 2014. In March 2017, OPB first reported, a split jury found Horner guilty. Oregon is one of only two states where non-unanimous convictions are allowed, and Deschutes County Superior Court Judge Stephen Forte then sentenced Horner to what would have been life in prison.

Related: Oregon District Attorneys Drop Plan to Scrap Non-Unanimous Jury Verdicts

Six months after his conviction, Horner reached out OIP for help advocating his innocence.

"There were a number of serious issues that we saw with the case," Wax says. "If you have no eyewitnesses, no DNA, no physical trauma on the body of the complainant, how do you establish it was a wrongful conviction?"

During a nine-month long investigation, Wax says the most prominent discrepancy OIP found in the case against Horner was an accusation that he had shot to death the family's black lab, Lucy, in front of his daughter. Wax says Horner's daughter testified under oath that in one instance of abuse, Horner threatened her and then shot the dog.

The Oregon Innocence Project was able to locate Lucy with her new owner and disprove the allegation.

"The reason Lucy became a focus," Wax says, "is that in a sex abuse case, in order to establish wrongfulness of conviction, it's important to find something objective."

Disproving Lucy's death, Wax adds, was "not the only objective fact [OIP was] able to use show that the complainant was telling law enforcement things that were not true."

Josh with OIP Legal Director, Steve Wax and OIP Staff Attorney, Brittney Plesser. (Jenny Coleman)

Horner's exoneration is the result of a joint investigation between OIP and Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel.

"Mr. Hummel agreed to look into the case and we sent him a detailed account of our investigation and our review of the trial record," OIP's release today reads. "He agreed to conduct a joint investigation with OIP into the conviction and came to agree that we know for a fact that the evidence doesn't support these accusations."

In a statement, Hummel thanked OIP for helping him "get it right."

"A prosecutor's job is to seek justice, not convictions," Hummel said. "The Oregon Innocence Project's dogged work on this case helped me see that justice required the dismissal of this prosecution."

This is the first legal victory for OIP, which was founded in 2014 and has already received over 500 requests for help proving innocence. Wax says the group is currently involved in four cases, not including Horner's.

"We hope [Horner's case] will serve as the model for future cases when we approach prosecutors, and that it will show that we can do a joint investigation for the truth," Wax says. "[Horner] would have died in prison and that did not happen. That is a very powerful and emotional experience."

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