A man who had already begun serving a 50-year prison sentence for alleged sexual abuse of a minor was set free Monday after the discovery of a dog that was a key part of the testimony against him.
"Joshua Horner, a plumber from the central Oregon town of Redmond, was convicted on April 12, 2017, of sexual abuse of a minor," AP reports. "In the trial, the complainant testified Horner had threatened to shoot her animals if she went to the police about the alleged molestation, and said she saw him shoot her dog, killing it, to make his point."
Horner denied the charges, including killing Lucy.
About six months after the verdict, which AP notes was not unanimous, Horner reached out to the Oregon Innocence Project, a group dedicated to "help[ing] wrongfully accused Oregonians clear their names."
The group managed to get the help of Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel to search for Lucy, who, if alive, would prove that the complainant had lied under oath. The team heard reports that Lucy had been given away, but finding the new owner was difficult.
"They made a couple trips around Deschutes County; he was not there," Steve Wax, director of the advocacy group, told AP. "We heard he was in Seattle. Then we learned he had a place on the Oregon Coast."
Finally, the search led them to a town northwest of Portland, Gearhart, where they met the owner and Lucy, healthy and happy, at a golf course.
"Lucy was identified by an undisputed chain of custody and her looks," AP reports. An OIP member noted that she's "a very distinctive-looking" dog and not "purebred."
On August 3, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed Horner's conviction and ordered a new trial, with the defense arguing that he was not allowed to present key evidence unrelated to the dog. A month later, Deschutes County Judge Michael Adler dismissed the case altogether.
While D.A. Hummel told the court Monday that he couldn't be sure that Horner was not guilty of a sex crime, he argued that the discovery of Lucy proved that the complainant had lied under oath, undermining her testimony. Hummel explained that the claim that Horner killed the dog came during the complainant's testimony, so prior investigation wasn't possible and his office had no reason to question the claim.
Hummel said that after Lucy was found, the complainant failed to attend a meeting about her testimony. When one of Hummel's investigators pulled into her driveway, she fled.
The case is the first overturned by the Oregon Innocence Project. Horner said in a statement released by the group that he and his wife "are ready to pick up the pieces of our lives."