Man who fought Malheur County criminal conviction for 11 years wins governor’s pardon

Earl Bain, center, poses with Steve Wax, legal director of the Oregon Innocence Project, and Brittney Plesser, project senior staff attorney. Bain has been pardoned for a criminal conviction in Malheur County in 2009. (Oregon Innocence Project photo)

VALE – A former U.S. Army combat veteran and former area resident convicted of sexual abuse 11 years ago has been pardoned by Gov. Kate Brown.

Earl Bain was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse by a non-unanimous Malheur County jury in 2009 and spent six years in prison.

The pardon was the final chapter in a long legal battle where Bain, with the help of the Oregon Innocence Project, tried unsuccessfully to get his conviction overturned.

Bain’s conviction was nullified after a key witness in the case recanted her story in 2015. There was no physical evidence in the case, according to the governor’s pardon order.

 The witness repeated her recantation to Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe. Goldthorpe, according a press release from the Oregon Innocence Project, supported the pardon.

“You have convinced her that you are worthy of this opportunity,” said Dustin Buehler, the governor’s general counsel in a letter to Bain. “The governor asks that you be true to your word, and continue to work hard and prove yourself worthy of this privilege.”

The Oregon Innocence Project began to work with Bain five years ago and according to the press release sought the pardon because of the “strong and compelling evidence that he is innocent.”

“This is the first pardon the governor has granted on innocence grounds, and it is an exceedingly rare event throughout the U.S. for a pardon to be given on this basis,” the press release said.

Attorneys with the Oregon Innocence Project helped Bain with a federal habeas corpus petition and an appeal to the U.S. Ninth Court of Appeals for a rehearing after an earlier appeal was dismissed by a lower court. 

The Ninth Circuit Court denied the appeal for a rehearing.

“That left a pardon from Governor Brown as the only hope of overturning the wrongful conviction,” according to the Oregon Innocence Project press release.

“We are grateful to Gov. Brown and her staff for thoroughly reviewing Mr. Bain’s case and remedying the mistakes that were made,” said Steve Wax, Legal Director of the Oregon Innocence Project.

Wax said Bain’s case had “many of the characteristics seen in wrongful conviction cases around the country.”

“For example, 84% of wrongful convictions for child sex abuse documented by the National Registry of Exonerations involve false accusations and/or perjury, as Mr. Bain’s case does,” said Wax.

Bain now lives in Idaho.

This is a developing with updates to follow.

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