In the community

Former Malheur County man, state ink settlement in wrongful conviction case

VALE – Earl Bain, who spent six years in prison after being wrongly convicted of a crime, has reached a $342,000 settlement with the state.

Bain, 46, a former local resident and disabled combat veteran, was convicted in 2009 of sexual abuse by a nonunanimous Malheur County jury. He was pardoned in 2020 by then-Gov. Kate Brown, a decision lauded at the time by Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe.

Bain then sued the state to get compensated under legislation passed in 2022 that provided payment to those wrongfully convicted. Bain, represented by the Oregon Innocence Project and the Oregon Justice Resource Center, filed for compensation from the state in Malheur County Circuit Court in March 2023.

Bain said in court filings that the state disregarded “important safeguards” that protect against improper convictions.

That included “the failure to provide a public defense attorney with adequate resources and experience,” according to a petition filed by attorneys for the Oregon Justice Resource Center and the Innocence Project .

Bain’s attorneys asserted there “was no physical evidence, nor circumstantial evidence, and no witnesses to corroborate” the statements from a child about the alleged abuse.

The Innocence Project was established in 2014 to consider unusual cases where people appear to have been wrongfully convicted.

According to an Oregon Justice Resource Center press release, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum for more than two years opposed compensating Bain.

Ray Kaufmann, director of communications for the state Justice Department, said that it “is important for the state to carefully evaluate each claim prior to bringing a case to trial or negotiating a settlement in lieu of a trial.”

Kaufmann said the Justice Department evaluated several “key legal issues” in Bain’s case.

“The statue requires petitioners to meet multiple requirements, and a pardon satisfies only one,” he said. “The petitioner must prove that they were innocent of the crime and not otherwise involved in the acts that led to the original conviction. The parties eventually agreed to resolve this matter through settlement,” he said.

He said the department believed “that was a good result.”
The state payout ends years of legal skirmishes for Bain. In early 2009, county prosecutors offered Bain a deal – if he pleaded guilty to first-degree sex abuse he would get probation but no jail time. He refused, maintaining he was innocent. He was then convicted 2009.

In 2015, the key witness in his conviction recanted her story.

Not long after, the Oregon Innocence Project sought a pardon for Bain because of the “strong and compelling evidence that he is innocent.”

Goldthorpe said last week the Innocence Project reached out to him and asked what his position “would be if we sought a pardon?”

Goldthorpe said he wanted to talk to the key witness about her claim and then he would look at the case.

“I went through the process of that, talking to her, reviewing the case evidence. I didn’t see an ethical reason to try to argue it was a justified conviction,” said Goldthorpe.

The Oregon Justice Center said in its statement that while Bain was “frustrated and disappointed that the office of the attorney general ignored the governor’s finding of innocence,” he “won the best outcome he could.”
“He is glad for closure for himself and his family,” the statement said.

Ben Haile, Oregon Justice Resource Center attorney who represented Bain, said Justice Department is slow in handling wrongful conviction compensation cases filed under the new state law.

Bain’s case, he said, was a prime example.

Too many people, he said, “got through a long, difficult, and expensive legal fight just to get the compensation offered by Oregon’s new law.”

“These people have been fighting against wrongful conviction for years, even decades. The DOJ is setting the bar too high. The law is designed to compensate people who are truly innocent, but it’s not working that way,” he said.

In a statement announcing the settlement, Bain said he had “to start over when I left prison.”

“Even when I was pardoned on the grounds of innocence by Governor Brown four years ago, that was not enough to make up for everything the state of Oregon has cost me,” he wrote.

Bain wrote “money can’t make up for all the ways my family and I have suffered as a result of my conviction, but it will help us rebuild.”

Bain also wrote he dreams of one day opening his own small business making metal and wood art.

“Something I would like people to understand is that wrongful convictions can happen to anyone. I never thought it would happen to me, but it did,” he wrote.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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