Last month in Oregon, an innocent man was exonerated for a crime that he did not commit. U.S. Army veteran Earl Bain, 41, who served more than six years in prison on a charge of first-degree sexual abuse received a pardon on Aug. 18 from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. The key aspects of the case were a bungled investigation; Bain’s public defender’s mishandling of the case; there were no witnesses and no physical evidence; along with the crucial development that the accuser recanted her story.
The Oregon Innocence Project – a nonprofit that helps the wrongly convicted prove their innocence –took up Bain’s cause five years ago in the lengthy legal battle. In late 2008, the state charged Bain with sexual abuse, solely based on statements of the 7-year-old accuser. A Malheur County jury convicted him in 2009. Throughout, Bain maintained his innocence, working through the years with a series of attorneys in appeal after appeal.
Accuser says no crime ever occurred
In the summer of 2015, the accuser – now a teenager – told a relative that no abuse ever happened. It was the relative who contacted the Oregon Innocence Project. Armed with this information, the non-profit approached U.S. District Court. However, the judge said this evidence was not enough to justify a new trial. The organization then took Bain’s case to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which dismissed the appeal in August 2019. This ruling meant that a pardon was the only chance to overturn Bain’s conviction.
The Oregon Innocence Project approached current Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe to interview the now-adult accuser, who provided details of the initial allegation as well as why they were not true. Goldthorpe, who did not participate in Bain’s prosecution, concluded that Bain was innocent and supported the pardon.
Persistence along with critical support from skilled legal and humanitarian allies helped Bain, who now lives in Idaho and no longer has a criminal conviction dangling over his head.