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Ore. Innocence Project Helps Free Man with 50-Year Sentence

Discrepancies in the testimony against Josh Horner led to his exoneration from a 50-year prison sentence. (Oregon Innocence Project)
Discrepancies in the testimony against Josh Horner led to his exoneration from a 50-year prison sentence. (Oregon Innocence Project)
September 11, 2018

BEND, Ore. — An Oregon man is free from a 50-year prison sentence thanks to the work of the Oregon Innocence Project. It is the project's first exoneration since it began four years ago.

Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel dismissed the case against Redmond resident Josh Horner, who had been charged with sexually abusing his daughter, after discrepancies in the alleged victim's testimony were found. Steve Wax, legal director with Oregon Innocence Project, said sexual abuse cases are emotionally fraught, and it's hard to believe that a child might make something up. And, he added, abuse cases rarely include forensic evidence or eyewitnesses, making the investigation all the more integral.

"It's necessary for there to be a thorough, searching and proper investigation,” Wax said. “And then on occasion, mistakes are made, and on occasion, the allegation is not going to be founded - and how difficult it is to sort out the truth of the matter."

One key discrepancy in the testimony was the claim that Horner had shot his dog in front of his daughter. Oregon Innocence Project found the dog is still alive.

Horner spent about 16 months in prison before an appeals court overturned his conviction this summer. On Monday, a judge motioned to drop the case, meaning he won't face another trial.

Wax commended Deschutes County DA John Hummel for his quick review of this case. He said the Oregon Innocence Project has screened more than 300 cases and taken on five clients.

"The effort to determine whether or not a person has been wrongfully convicted and, if it appears as though the person may be, then to find some objective proof that can be used to get the conviction thrown out is a very difficult and time-consuming process,” Wax said.

He said he hopes the cooperative work with the prosecutor in this case will serve as a model for future cases. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 18 Oregonians have been exonerated since 1989.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR