The discovery of Lucy, a black Lab mix, led to dismissing all charges against Johsua Horner, who had initially been convicted and received a 50-year sentence.
Horner had been released from prison last month, pending a new trial ordered by the Oregon Court of Appeals, which had reversed his conviction because the defense had not been allowed to present other evidence — unrelated to the dog — at the first trial.
Horner, a plumber from the central Oregon town of Redmond, was convicted in April 2017 of sexual abuse of a minor.
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.
Six months after a jury convicted Horner, he asked the Oregon Innocence Project for help.
A year later the group shared its findings with with Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel, and he agreed to work with them.
An Oregon Innocence Project volunteer and an official from Hummel’s office searched for the dog, tracking down rumors that she had been given away.
Finally, they located Lucy’s new owners and visited them at their home outside of Portland.
“She was drinking a bowl of water and sitting in shade underneath a porch. We played with her. Petted her. It was wonderful,” said Lisa Christon, the Oregon Innocence Project volunteer.
Lucy was identified by an undisputed chain of custody and her looks, the Associated Press reported.
“She’s a very distinctive-looking black Lab; not purebred. She’s got this adorable shaped head and really long ears,” Christon said.
The new evidence — that Lucy was never shot — showed the complainant had not been truthful when testifying, the district attorney said.
“Lucy the dog was not shot. Lucy the dog is alive and well,” Hummel’s office said in a statement.
Deschutes County Judge Michael Adler dismissed the case after Hummel told the court Monday he’s not convinced that Horner abused the girl, a minor, whose name is being withheld in news reports. Hummel said when his investigators tried to interview the girl again last week, she ran away.
Horner, in a statement released by the Oregon Innocence Project, thanked the group, his family, friends and Hummel.
“Kelli and I are ready to pick up the pieces of our lives,” he said, referring to his wife.
It was the first exoneration for the Oregon Innocence Project, launched in 2014 to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and promote legal reforms.
(Photo: At top, Lucy, after she was discovered, by Oregon Innocence Project; lower, Josh Horner with his wife Kelli Horner after his release from the Deschutes County Jail in Bend, Ore., Aug. 3, 2018; by Valerie Wright / Associated Press)