Our Clients' Stories of Innocence

UW 360

The following Innocence Project Northwest cases are in the National Registry of Exonerations

NameCountyConvictedExoneratedContributing Factors
Anderson, James Pierce20022008Informant Testimony
Bradford, TedYakima19962010False Confession, Mistaken Witness ID
Cunningham, HenryChelan19941999False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation Inadequate Legal Representation
Davis, JeramieSpokane20072013Perjury or False Accusation
Davis, LarryClark19932010Mistaken Witness ID
Gassman, TylerSpokane2009 2013Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Gausvik, RalphChelan19952000Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Green, DorisChelan19952000False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Larson, RobertSpokane2009 2013Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Northrop, AlanClark19932000Mistaken Witness ID
Statler, PaulSpokane2009 2013Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Town, MeredithChelan19942000False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct

Hasani and James Anderson

James and Hasani Anderson

On April 12, 2004, a payday loan store in Tacoma, Washington was robbed. After viewing a photo montage, a witness identified Los Angeles, California resident James Anderson as one of the robbers. Police in Tacoma had Anderson’s mugshot because he had spent time in a Tacoma jail. Based on the identification, Anderson was arrested and charged with the robbery. Anderson insisted he could not have committed the robbery because he had been meeting with his probation officer on the day of the robbery, more than 1,100 miles from Tacoma. Records from the Los Angeles County Probation Office confirmed his claim, and the robbery charge was dropped. Several days later, Anderson was arrested again, this time for a robbery of a Safeway in Tacoma in the early morning of April 8. Two other suspects in the Safeway robbery had identified Anderson as one of the robbers whose images were captured by a store surveillance camera. Anderson again said he could not have committed the robbery because, less than 12 hours before, he had been at the Probation Office in Los Angeles. However, the Probation Office wouldn’t provide records for the relevant date, and Anderson was extradited to Washington to stand trial for the robbery.

At trial, Anderson insisted on representing himself, but the judge appointed a standby attorney to assist him. Anderson filed a subpoena for all probation check-in logs from Los Angeles County from April 7 to April 8. However, the Probation Office refused to give Anderson the records directly, and neither his standby attorney nor the prosecution obtained them. Anderson brought the missing records to the attention of the judge before trial started, but the prosecutor responded that he had personally contacted the Probation Office and there were no records of any contact with Anderson between his release from jail on April 6 and the robbery on April 12. The prosecution also checked the airlines to see if Anderson had flown to Washington, but found nothing. The only evidence connecting Anderson to the robbery was the identification by the other two suspects, who received reduced charges in return for their testimony. Though both he and his girlfriend testified that he was in California at the time of the robbery, the jury convicted Anderson of armed robbery in 2005, and he was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

After Anderson’s conviction, the Innocence Project Northwest took his case. The Project immediately obtained records confirming that Anderson had been at the Probation Office in Los Angeles on April 7, and did not have time to drive to Tacoma to commit the robbery. . . .The Washington State Court of Appeals granted Anderson’s petition in December 2008, and ordered a new trial. Anderson was released on bail in December 2008, and in February 2009, prosecutors dismissed the charges. [Anderson was represented by volunteer attorney Christopher J. Carney ’02 of Carney Gillespie Isitt PLLP and IPNW Director Jackie McMurtrie and student Boris Reznikov '08].

Summary courtesy of Stephanie Denzel, The National Registry of Exonerations. Reproduced with permission.

Ted Bradford

bradford

Ted Louis Bradford spent almost 10 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit – and another four years awaiting a new trial – before he was retried and acquitted based on DNA evidence of his innocence in 2010.

The Crime

On the morning of September 29, 1995, in Yakima, Washington, a young woman was in her living room feeding her one-month-old infant son when she heard an unfamiliar noise in the h allway. The woman saw a man approaching her wearing a white nylon-stocking mask. She tried to flee with her baby, but the man grabbed her from behind and tackled her. The man demanded that she not look at him but allowed her to put her baby back in his crib before he forced the woman into her basement.

In the basement, the man handcuffed the woman and put a Lone Ranger-style mask over her face before pushing her to the floor and raping her. Adhesive tape had been placed over the eyeholes in advance, apparently to prevent the victim from identifying the perpetrator. He later dragged the woman up the stairs and took her into the infant’s bedroom, where he tied her to the crib using a coat hanger and the loops in her belt. The man then left the woman, with her mask still on, in the infant’s room.

The woman told police that the man as wearing black jeans with a dull red and blue checkered flannel jacket and white gloves. Despite the stocking covering his face, the woman described the man as Caucasian or a light-skinned Hispanic, stocky, with dark hair or dark blond hair. She also described the man as about six feet tall or “half a head” taller than her husband. He was “was a giant to me,” she reportedly told police.

Bradford was arrested six months later in April 1996 when investigators believed Bradford may have been connected to the rape and interrogated him for eight hours and subjected him to a polygraph test. After five hours, Bradford admitted that he “probably” committed the rape. Bradford’s confession, however, contained numerous inconsistent details concerning the crime. An attorney sent by Bradford’s wife was denied access to Bradford because police said Bradford could only speak with him if he requested an attorney.

The victim in the case never identified Bradford as her attacker. Two neighbors said they had seen a white Toyota Tercel similar to Bradford’s near the scene of the crime; one said she had seen Bradford driving the car around the neighborhood that day. Based on his admission and the neighbor’s identification, Bradford was charged with the crime.

The Trial

Bradford said he was at work when the rape occurred, but a clerical error at his job incorrectly showed that Bradford was off that day. When police confronted Bradford about this discrepancy, he changed his story saying he was not at work that day. He later said that he changed his story because he was confused by the clerical error. At trial, Bradford’s wife testified that she had picked him up from work for a scheduled vasectomy, and a co-worker also testified that he had teased Bradford about the operation. Bradford’s timecard indicated he was at work and he was paid for that day.

Despite no physical evidence linking him to the crime and the fact that he was only 5’7 – significantly shorter than the victim’s description – Bradford was convicted of rape and burglary and sentenced to 10 years in prison based on the strength of his confession and the neighbor’s testimony. The court of appeals upheld his conviction, ruling that Bradford’s confession had not been coerced and that the detectives’ refusal to allow Bradford’s attorney to speak with his client during the interrogation did not violate his constitutional rights.

Post-Conviction

Bradford served nine years in prison before being released on community supervison. Although the Innocence Project Northwest Clinic, based at the University of Washington School of Law, began working on Bradford’s case in 2002, it took years to complete the several rounds of DNA testing Bradford was still required to register as a sex offender as part of his community supervision.

Bradford served nine years in prison before being released on parole. After his release, the , based at the University of Washington, took Bradford’s case and sought DNA testing. Bradford was still required to register as a sex offender as part of his parole.

After the IPNW successfully obtained DNA testing on Bradford’s behalf, analysts from the Washington state crime lab tested samples from the adhesive tape used on the mask. The tests returned two profiles. One was consistent with the victim and the other was an unknown man, not Bradford. The DNA of the same unknown man was on both the adhesive side of the tape and the non-adhesive side. Moreover, another distinct male profile was found on the backside of the victim’s jeans. In light of this new evidence, the Washington State Court of Appeals formally reversed Bradford’s conviction in 2007. In its decision, the court wrote: “Since male DNA was present, and it was not Mr. Bradford’s, the inference is that the unidentified male devised the mask. And, the victim’s testimony that the assailant kept pushing the mask back over her eyes supports an inference that Mr. Bradford was not the perpetrator; otherwise, his DNA would have been present.”

Yakima country prosecutors, still convinced that Bradford was the perpetrator, decided to retry him. The second trial ended in February 2010, with a jury acquitting Bradford, now 36, of first-degree rape and burglary after just five hours of deliberation. It took nearly 15 years before justice was served, but Bradford finally cleared his name.

Summary courtesy of the Innocence Project. Reproduced with permission.

Henry Cunningham

In 1994 and 1995 in Wenatchee, Washington, 43 adults were arrested on 29,726 charges of child-sex abuse involving over 60 children. One of the families caught up in the Wenatchee, Washington sex-ring maelstrom was the Cunningham family. In June of 1994, Henry and Connie Cunningham lived in Wenatchee with three of their four daughters, ages 19, 17, and 15. Henry Cunningham worked as a vocational rehabilitation counselor and Connie Cunningham was a homemaker. However, the Cunningham family was not without its problems. Mr. Cunningham was seeing a psychiatrist for treatment of a bi-polar/manic depression disorder. And in May of 1994, J.C. (age 15), who had behavioral problems, attempted suicide. Her parents took her against her wishes to Pinecrest Hospital for inpatient treatment and during the course of the treatment, an angry J.C. revealed abuse that had allegedly occurred 12 years earlier.

After J.C.’s disclosure, Henry Cunningham contacted the police on the advice of his psychiatrist. Mr. Cunningham wanted to straighten out the matter and let the police know he was innocent. Before going to the police station, Mr. Cunningham took several Klonopin, a potent anti-anxiety medication, t o calm himself. The interview did not go as Mr. Cunningham had expected. Detective Perez, rather than accepting Mr. Cunningham’s denial of the accusations, began interrogating him in a threatening and coercive manner. After seven-and-a-half hours of interrogation, Mr. Cunningham signed a six-page statement, typed by Perez. The statement detailed Mr. Cunningham’s daily sexual abuse of his four daughters, as well as his wife’s participation in the abuse. Mr. Cunningham was booked into jail on 900 counts of sexual abuse and his wife Connie was later charged with 66 counts of child incest and rape.

The Cunningham’s other daughters, were then questioned about the abuse. They denied that they had been victims of sexual abuse and asked to see their father’s confession. Perez did not allow them to read the confession, but told them that their father had admitted to many acts of abuse against all four of his daughters. The girls eventually gave statements that mirrored the language contained in their father’s confession describing daily acts of abuse at home and at their father’s place of work.

Six days after the interrogation, Perez and a child protective service official interviewed J.C. at Pinecrest Hospital. The interview began with the detective telling J.C. that her father had already confessed to committing various acts involving her and her sisters, and asking what, if anything, had happened to her. J.C. replied that she could only remember some things but thought she might have been hypnotized by her father and made to forget events. She relayed that Henry Cunningham knew how to hypnotize her and sisters and he would swing a chain back and forth in front of them or move his index finger back and forth to hypnotize them. J.C. also stated that her father had taught her how to do mind control over animals.

Perez continued to press her to disclose abuse. He told her that her father had already given a confession, detailing certain events that involved her and her sisters and that if she was able to corroborate his statement he would be sent away for a long time. J.C. then disclosed sexual abuse to that occurred “probably every day or maybe just sometimes once a week.”

The girls underwent repressed memory therapy and testified at Connie Cunningham’s trial that they had “fragments” and “fractions” of memories; that their memories were also “floating,” and “disjointed” and that they were able to repress certain memories. The jury convicted Connie Cunningham and she was sentenced to 46 ½ years in prison. Henry Cunningham had pled guilty the morning he and his wife were scheduled for trial, after his defense attorney advised him that it was the only way he could save his wife from being convicted. His defense attorney gave this advice without having secured any type of plea offer from the prosecutor; much less any promise that the prosecutor would offer any leniency to his wife based upon his decision to plead guilty. Henry Cunningham was sentenced to 47 years in prison.

In 1998, Glenn Draper and Neal Philip, volunteer attorneys with the Innocence Project Northwest, undertook the representation of Henry Cunningham. With the assistance of law student Kimberly Watson, they uncovered exculpatory evidence during the course of the post-conviction proceedings. The janitors who cleaned the building where Henry Cunningham worked (and who lived adjacent to the building) never saw any evidence to support the claims that he sexually abused his daughters at work on a daily basis. The psychiatrist treating Mr. Cunningham informed the court that Mr. Cunningham’s psychiatric problems made him particularly susceptible to the detective’s coercive interrogation techniques. J.C. also provided information that her sister had been pressured into making allegations of abuse and had lied about the abuse. J.C. herself could not trust her own memory, which had been muddled by psychoanalysis and long interrogations, enough to say what truly happened to her.

Henry Cunningham’s conviction was overturned on the basis of ineffectiveness of counsel and the State elected not to retry him. He had served 5 years of a 47-year sentence.

Jeramie Davis

Jeramie Davis

After serving nearly six years of a 40-year sentence for a crime he did not commit, Jeramie Davis returned home to his family on April 11, 2013, cleared of a 2008 murder conviction in Spokane County. Judge Gregory Sypolt wished Mr. Davis good luck as he ordered him freed following a hearing in Spokane County Superior Court. Mr. Davis, was anxious to be reunited with his 5-year-old son, who was born after Mr. Davis was arrested in 2007. “I’m so appreciative to everyone who believed in and fought for me,” said Mr. Davis who relied on his faith while in prison, “I never lost hope that I would one day be free.”

A jury found Mr. Davis guilty of murdering the owner of an adult bookstore in June 2007. Mr. Davis acknowledged taking items from the store that night — and in fact alerted authorities after discovering the owner was injured — but denied any involvement in the murder. Despite his claims of innocence, Mr. Davis was convicted of committing the murder with a baseball bat. DNA from the bat was tested prior to trial and excluded Mr. Davis, but authorities could not identify the contributor of the DNA profile.

In 2011, Spokane police detective Tim Madsen requested that DNA evidence collected at the crime scene be uploaded into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). This time the inquiry revealed a match. DNA on the baseball bat used in the victim’s beating and found in his stolen vehicle was matched with another man, Julio Davila. The Spokane County Prosecutor then charged Davila, who was convicted of the victim’s murder on July 13, 2012. Meanwhile, Mr. Davis remained in prison serving a 40-year sentence for the same murder. A lengthy police investigation revealed no connection between Davila and Mr. Davis.

The Innocence Project Northwest began reviewing Mr. Davis’ case in 2011. Over the prosecutor’s objection, IPNW convinced Judge Sypolt to grant Mr. Davis a new trial on the murder charge. Kevin Curtis of the Winston & Cashatt law firm and IPNW Deputy Director Anna Tolin agreed to represent Mr. Davis at the new trial. Ultimately, the parties reached a settlement that resulted in dismissal of the murder charge. Mr. Davis entered a plea to a second degree robbery charge and Judge Sypolt ordered his immediate release.

Kevin Curtis of Winston & Cashatt and IPNW Deputy Director Anna Tolin were assisted by the hard-fought efforts of many dedicated individuals, including UW School of Law students Alice Jones '13 and Brian Ferrasci-O’Malley '13, and IPNW paralegal Laura Fox. Upon his release, Mr. Davis became the 306th DNA exoneree in the United States. He expressed deep appreciation to his family for their ongoing support and all of the individuals who worked on his case. “Now I look forward to getting to know my son,” he said.

Larry Davis

davis

In 1993, a housekeeper was cleaning a home in Washington state when two men broke in and sexually assaulted her. A tip led police to include two local men in a lineup —Larry Davis and Alan Northrop. Although the victim was blindfolded and didn’t get a good look at the perpetrators, she would eventually point out Northrop and Davis in flawed identification procedures. The two men would spend more than 17 years behind bars before DNA testing proved their innocence.

The Crime

On the morning of January 11, 1993, the victim was cleaning a home in La Center, Washington, when two men broke in. They struggled with the woman before blindfolding her with tape. They tied her legs to a kitchen table, threatened her with a knife and cut off her clothes. One man penetrated her with a foreign object before raping her, while the other held her down. The men left immediately after the attack and nothing was stolen from the house.

Because the victim had been blindfolded for the attack, the only detail she could recall for certain about her attackers was that one had dark hair, and one was blonde. The victim was examined in a hospital after the attack and a rape kit was collected. Other evidence was collected from the scene of the crime.

The Investigation and Identification

The police released descriptions of the perpetrators to the public: two men, one with blond hair and one with dark hair. Someone called in, stating that Larry W. Davis and his friend, Alan G. Northrop, were friends in the area who fit the profile. They immediately became suspects and were placed in photo arrays shown to the victim.

Despite telling police she could only remember the perpetrators’ hair color, the victim made a tentative photo identification of Davis, but did not identify a second person. She was later presented with a live lineup that included both men and she identified both of them as the attackers. Davis and Northrop were the only suspects who appeared in both the photo and live lineups, potentially making their faces more familiar to her and increasing the chances of her recognizing them. Additionally, a friend of the victim’s had provided her with details about the suspects who were questioned, right before the lineups occurred.

Based on the victim’s positive identification, Davis and Northrop were charged with committing the attack. Northrop was charged as the rapist and Davis as the accomplice.

The Trial

The two men were tried separately in 1993. Both defendants maintained their innocence and argued that they had been misidentified. The prosecution relied heavily on the victim’s identification to make their case. No physical evidence connected either man to the crime scene.

In May of 1993, the jury found Larry Davis guilty of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree burglary, and being an accomplice to first-degree rape. He was sentenced to 20 years and 6 months in prison. Two months later, a different jury found Alan Northrop guilty of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree burglary, and first-degree rape. He was sentenced to 23 years and 6 months.

Post-Conviction and Exoneration

Davis and Northrop contacted the Innocence Project Northwest by mail in 2000. The state’s DNA testing statute at the time gave prosecutors the ultimate decision on whether to grant DNA testing in closed cases. The Clark County Prosecutor’s Office opposed the tests for almost six years while Davis and Northrop waited behind bars. The law was changed in 2005 to give judges the power to order post-conviction testing. The Innocence Project Northwest filed a motion in 2006 seeking DNA tests on evidence from the case.

Clark County Superior Court Judge Robert Harris (the original trial court judge) granted testing. After the court ordered testing, however, the shirt and pants worn by the victim during the assault were destroyed by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, before DNA testing could be conducted on the evidence. Tests proceeded on other crime scene evidence, however, including swabs in the rape kit that contained sperm cells and fingernail scrapings taken from the victim after the crime. The results revealed consistent profiles of two unknown men, excluding Northrup and Davis. Further testing in 2009 showed that the victim’s boyfriend was also not the source of the foreign male profiles.

Davis and Northrop continued to fight for exoneration based on these results. Davis was released on probation in January 2010, three years before the expected termination of his sentence. Four months later, on April 21, 2010, Judge Diane Woolard overturned the men’s convictions based on the DNA results. On July 14, 2010, prosecutors officially dismissed the charges against Larry Davis and Alan Northrop and they were exonerated.

Summary courtesy of the Innocence Project. Reproduced with permission.

Tyler Gassman, Robert Larson and Paul Statler

Paul Statler, Robert Larson and Tyler GassmanTyler Gassman, Robert Larson and Paul Statler were exonerated when their 2009 convictions for robbery, assault and drive-by shooting were dismissed. The State moved to dismiss the charges against Robert Larson on June 3, 2013 and charges against Tyler Gassman and Paul Statler were dismissed with prejudice on July 23, 2013. The dismissals came seven months after Spokane County Superior Court Judge Michael Price vacated the men’s convictions. On December 14, 2012, Judge Price ruled that the volume of evidence presented by post-conviction counsel raised serious doubts about the original jury’s verdict and about the reliability of the State’s informant. After Judge Price ordered the men’s immediate release from prison the State indicated its intent to proceed to re-trial. However, the men’s five year ordeal came to an end when the charges were officially dismissed.

“These cases poignantly demonstrate the need for our system to reexamine its use of informant testimony,” said Jacqueline McMurtrie, the Director of the Innocence Project Northwest. “Paul, Tyler and Robert are innocent men who spent nearly five years in prison based solely on the word of an informant who got an extraordinary deal – one ‘too good to be true’ - for his testimony.”

The testimony of Matt Dunham, the State’s cooperating witness, was the only evidence tying any of the men to the alleged robbery of Rob Seiler and Eric Weskamp during a drug deal. The charges came about after Matt Dunham, along with his brother and two others, was arrested after committing a violent home invasion on April 23, 2008. A month later, Dunham, entered into a “cooperation agreement” with the police, and implicated Gassman, Larson and Statler in four robberies. In exchange, Dunham, who was facing a 30 to 40 year prison sentence, received a sentence of less than 18 months in juvenile detention. Of the four cases in which Dunham had implicated Gassman, Larson and Statler, one case was dismissed by the State after a jury was impanelled. A jury returned not guilty verdicts in two cases. The fourth case resulted in guilty verdicts and prison sentences of 41 years for Paul Statler, 26 years for Tyler Gassman, and 20 years for Robert Larson.

Initially, law enforcement believed the date of the crime to be April 15, a day for which each defendant had an alibi. Those alibis, including Mr. Larson’s timecard showing he was at work at the time of the robbery, proved fatal to Dunham’s version of events. Thus, the State found a witness who said his phone records suggested the crime date was April 17 and the State moved to amend the Information on the eve of trial. The Court granted the State’s motion to amend the Information and postponed the case for three weeks.

It was undisputed that Weskamp, one of the robbery victims, suffered significant injuries during the attack and left work early the day after the robbery because of those injuries. Post-conviction counsel obtained Weskamp’s work records, which showed he left work early on April 16, 2008, the only day that week that he did not work a full 8-hour day. This evidence established the date of the crime was April 15, as initially charged, and not April 17 as the State alleged at trial. This and other post-conviction evidence led Judge Price to vacate the convictions.

“It takes a village to exonerate an innocent person,” said M. Fernanda Torres, of the Innocence Project Northwest, who represented Paul Statler. “The dedicated work of many people, including the post-conviction team of law students Allison Sherrill '12 and Michael Sprangers '12; attorneys Allen D. Clark of Baetz/Lamka/Clark LLP and Matthew J. Zuchetto ’02 of The Scott Law Group; and investigators Ted Pulver and Tim Provost, led to getting the convictions overturned. When the State threatened re-trial, we were fortunate to bring Chris Bugbee and Mark Vovos, two experienced criminal defense attorneys, on-board.” Informant, or ‘snitch’ testimony is a leading cause of wrongful convictions and is known to have contributed to wrongful convictions in nearly 1/5th of the first 301 DNA exonerations. Alexandra Natapoff, author of Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice, concludes that “the criminal system does not have good internal mechanisms to protect defendants from lying informants--wrongful convictions are difficult to unearth and even harder to fix.”

Duane Statler, Paul Statler’s father, became a strong advocate for legislative reform while his son was in prison. His efforts were among the reasons Washington State Senator Mike Padden convened a 2012 work session focusing on reducing the risks of informant use in our criminal justice system.

Mark Vovos, who represented Tyler Gassman said: “These young men are innocent. The Legal System failed them the first time. It was an honor for me to help in a small way the Innocence Project Northwest set the record straight.”

Paul Statler was represented pre-trial by M. Fernanda Torres of the Innocence Project Northwest, Tyler Gassman by Mark E. Vovos and Robert Larson by Chris Bugbee.

Ralph Gausvik

In January 1994, after about a week of training, Robert Perez took over as head of the sex crimes unit of the police department in Wenatchee, Washington.

His investigation of allegations of the rape and molestation of children would set off a chain of events that would ultimately mushroom into one of the more baffling and painful episodes of mass sex abuse hysteria in American history.

The Wenatchee cases were among several groups of prosecutions that occurred in a wave of child sex abuse hysteria that swept through the country in the 1980s and early 1990s. Some (but not all) of these cases included allegations of satanic rituals. Many focused on day care centers. Nationally, there have been dozens of exonerations in child sex abuse hysteria cases.

In March 1994, just weeks after Perez took over the sex crimes unit he became the foster parent of nine-year-old Donna Everett of Wenatchee, Washington. Everett was one of five children of Harold and Idella Everett. She had been in and out of foster care for two years, with her initial removal from home triggered in 1992 when she reported that two six-year-old boys had touched her genitals. Her 11-year-old sister, Melinda, joined her in the Perez home in June 1994.

Not long after Donna arrived in the Perez home, she said that she had been sexually molested by her parents. In September 1994, after her sister, Melinda, said her parents had sexually abused her as well, Harold Everett, 65, and Idella, 41, were arrested.

Idella Everett, mentally disabled and illiterate, was accused of 1,586 counts of rape and 4,836 counts of aiding and abetting the sexual abuse of 10 children. A court-appointed psychiatrist reported that she was too developmentally disabled to aid in her defense. She confessed and on November 30, 1994, she pleaded guilty to two counts of child molestation and was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison.

Harold Everett, also a mentally disabled and illiterate, was accused of 6,422 counts of rape against eight children. On December 5, 1994, he pleaded guilty to eight counts of rape and molestation and was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

In March 1995, Perez put Donna Everett, by then 10 years old, in his police car and drove around Wenatchee and East Wenatchee. The girl pointed out places—homes and buildings—where she said she and other children were raped and molested beginning in January 1988. She identified 22 places in all, including the East Wenatchee Pentecostal Church of God House of Prayer.

She then went on to say that she had been raped or sexually molested by virtually every adult she had come in contact with and that the same had happened to almost every child she ever knew. She spoke of child-swapping orgies where adults took children six at a time into rooms and took turns having sex with them. Later, Donna's 12-year-old sister, Melinda, echoed the charges and added more names, first to Perez and eventually in court.

Police, prosecutors and social workers responded in force and began making arrests and filing thousands of charges of rape and molestation. Not all of the cases were built on the allegations of Donna and Melinda Everett.

In some cases, spouses embroiled in domestic disputes were both arrested and charges after one spouse alleged the other spouse was molesting their children. Adults and children were subjected to vigorous and lengthy interrogations and many, after resisting, began to tell bizarre stories of sex orgies involving children and went on to name friends, neighbors and relatives as participants.

Perez believed he had uncovered a giant sex ring made up of pedophiles that preyed on children. The group was referred as “The Circle” and at one point authorities believed there were more than 100 members.

Ultimately, authorities said they found 60 children, ages 5-16, who had been sexually abused or raped 29,726 times over a six-year period—an astonishing figure in the town of 55,000 residents.

A total of 43 people—including the pastor of the church, his wife, and 22 of other women—were eventually arrested and charged with thousands of counts of rape and an assortment of related charges. Many of the defendants were Hispanic; most were poor, illiterate or mentally ill.

The cases were built on the testimony of the children, on confessions and testimony from some of the accused, and on medical evidence that purported to show the children had been assaulted sexually.

Thirty of the defendants were convicted at trial, or pleaded guilty or no contest to some of the charges. Four, including the pastor and his wife, were acquitted at trial and the charges were dismissed against nine others.

The convictions or pleas of 18 defendants were later set aside. The charges against 11 of those defendants were dismissed and they were exonerated. The seven other defendants entered no contest pleas to lesser charges.

Of the remaining 12 defendants who were convicted or pleaded guilty or no contest, most received suspended sentences or were released immediately after receiving credit for time served.

Among the homes pointed out by Donna Everett was that of Ralph Gausvik, 39, who had been unemployed for two years due to a heart attack, and his common-law wife, Barbara Garass, 38.

The girl said she and her sister had been there and had been raped and molested.

Gausvik and Garass were charged on July 9, 1995. They were accused of raping and molesting Garass’s three children, ages 7, 11, and 14.

Garass pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 26 months in prison.

At Gausvik’s trial, the three children testified that he raped and molested them. Gausvik took the stand and denied any of it happened.

On November 2, 1995, he was convicted of three counts of child rape and three counts of molestation and was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

In 1998, the Washington Court of Appeals received an appeal in Idella Everett’s case. The court appointed Whitman County Superior Court Judge Wallis Friel to hold a hearing to determine whether the Everetts’ legal rights had been violated.

In April 1998, Judge Friel issued a 64-page report that excoriated the evidence-gathering methods of Perez, other police, state social workers, and therapists.

Specifically, Judge Friel found that a videotaped recantation made by Melinda Everett in June 1996 was truthful. Melinda, who was by then 13, gave a 1½ hour video-taped statement in which she said that she had been pressured by Perez. She denied ever being sexually abused or witnessing anyone being sexually abused.

Although the decision applied only to Idella Everett’s case, the ruling would become a template that the appeals court used to set aside convictions of other defendants.

Judge Friel criticized Perez for continuing to be a foster parent to the two girls while investigating cases in which they were the chief accusers. That relationship, the judge said, was a factor in Perez’s failure to investigate the girl’s reliability as a witness.

Friel said Perez used improper interrogation techniques to get the two girls to accuse the Everetts and others and in getting Idella Everett to confess.

“It has become obvious during this hearing that Detective Perez was able to get the women of the Everett family to say whatever he wanted them to say,” the judge wrote.

The judge also noted Perez had little training as a sex-abuse investigator and little knowledge about how to interrogate child witnesses, and that “Perez's actions seem designed to create an atmosphere of fear among people who had an interest in the case.”

“Prevention of fair interrogation and access to the accusers, and the brainwashing of those who disagree with them, thwarts the judicial process in the same manner as improper interrogation procedures,” the judge said.

In September 1998, the appeals court set aside the convictions of Harold and Idella Everett. The charges were dismissed and they were released.

On November 6, 1998, the appeals court, again relying upon Judge Friel’s findings, set aside Gausvik’s conviction. The charges were dismissed and he was released. Summary courtesy of Maurice Possley, The National Registry of Exonerations, exonerationregistry.org. Reproduced with permission.

Doris Green

In 1994 and 1995 in Wenatchee, Washington, 43 adults were arrested on 29,726 charges of child-sex abuse involving over 60 children. One of them was Doris Green. When she was arrested in 1994, Doris Green was a 34 year-old mother of four children, who worked in the fruit orchards of the Wenatchee Valley. She became part of the sex-ring investigations when she was accused of horrific acts of sexual abuse and rape against her children and three children she babysat. The ordeal began when Detective Perez called Doris Green to the police station for an interview and told her she was being interviewed in relation to other sex abuse cases. However, the interview soon turned confrontational. According to Ms. Green, Detective Perez became verbally and physically abusive and threatened to take away her children if she did not confess to the crimes. After almost four hours of interrogation, a four page typewritten statement was produced and was placed in front of Doris Green for her signature. Ms. Green, who is marginally literate, asked Detective Perez to read the statement to her and he refused. Doris Green signed the statement, in which she admitted to vile acts of sexual abuse, and was booked into jail.

Immediately after her arrest, Doris Green began writing to her lawyer, vigorously asserting that Detective Perez fabricated her alleged confession. Five days after her arrest, she was charged with three counts of rape of a child in the first degree, and one count of child molestation in the first degree. At trial, Doris Green’s confession was admitted as evidence. She was convicted and sentenced to 280 months (23.3 years) in prison.

In 1998, Suzanne Elliott and James Roe, volunteer attorneys with the Innocence Project Northwest, undertook Doris Green’s representation and filed a personal restraint petition on her behalf. Doris Green’s conviction was overturned in November of 1999 after an eight year veteran of the police force came forward to say that he observed Detective Perez threatening Ms. Green during the interrogation that occurred 5 years earlier. The prosecutor conceded that a new trial should be granted.

Doris Green, who had 17 years left on her 23 year sentence, turned down all the plea offers made by the prosecutor and the State elected not to retry the case.

Alan Northrop

davis

In 1993, a housekeeper was cleaning a home in Washington state when two men broke in and sexually assaulted her. A tip led police to include two local men in a lineup —Larry Davis and Alan Northrop. Although the victim was blindfolded and didn’t get a good look at the perpetrators, she would eventually point out Northrop and Davis in flawed identification procedures. The two men would spend more than 17 years behind bars before DNA testing proved their innocence.

The Crime

On the morning of January 11, 1993, the victim was cleaning a home in La Center, Washington, when two men broke in. They struggled with the woman before blindfolding her with tape. They tied her legs to a kitchen table, threatened her with a knife and cut off her clothes. One man penetrated her with a foreign object before raping her, while the other held her down. The men left immediately after the attack and nothing was stolen from the house.

Because the victim had been blindfolded for the attack, the only detail she could recall for certain about her attackers was that one had dark hair, and one was blonde. The victim was examined in a hospital after the attack and a rape kit was collected. Other evidence was collected from the scene of the crime.

The Investigation and Identification

The police released descriptions of the perpetrators to the public: two men, one with blond hair and one with dark hair. Someone called in, stating that Larry W. Davis and his friend, Alan G. Northrop, were friends in the area who fit the profile. They immediately became suspects and were placed in photo arrays shown to the victim.

Despite telling police she could only remember the perpetrators’ hair color, the victim made a tentative photo identification of Davis, but did not identify a second person. She was later presented with a live lineup that included both men and she identified both of them as the attackers. Davis and Northrop were the only suspects who appeared in both the photo and live lineups, potentially making their faces more familiar to her and increasing the chances of her recognizing them. Additionally, a friend of the victim’s had provided her with details about the suspects who were questioned, right before the lineups occurred.

Based on the victim’s positive identification, Davis and Northrop were charged with committing the attack. Northrop was charged as the rapist and Davis as the accomplice.

The Trial

The two men were tried separately in 1993. Both defendants maintained their innocence and argued that they had been misidentified. The prosecution relied heavily on the victim’s identification to make their case. No physical evidence connected either man to the crime scene.

In May of 1993, the jury found Larry Davis guilty of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree burglary, and being an accomplice to first-degree rape. He was sentenced to 20 years and 6 months in prison. Two months later, a different jury found Alan Northrop guilty of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree burglary, and first-degree rape. He was sentenced to 23 years and 6 months.

Post-Conviction and Exoneration

Davis and Northrop contacted the Innocence Project Northwest by mail in 2000. The state’s DNA testing statute at the time gave prosecutors the ultimate decision on whether to grant DNA testing in closed cases. The Clark County Prosecutor’s Office opposed the tests for almost six years while Davis and Northrop waited behind bars. The law was changed in 2005 to give judges the power to order post-conviction testing. The Innocence Project Northwest filed a motion in 2006 seeking DNA tests on evidence from the case.

Clark County Superior Court Judge Robert Harris (the original trial court judge) granted testing. After the court ordered testing, however, the shirt and pants worn by the victim during the assault were destroyed by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, before DNA testing could be conducted on the evidence. Tests proceeded on other crime scene evidence, however, including swabs in the rape kit that contained sperm cells and fingernail scrapings taken from the victim after the crime. The results revealed consistent profiles of two unknown men, excluding Northrup and Davis. Further testing in 2009 showed that the victim’s boyfriend was also not the source of the foreign male profiles.

Davis and Northrop continued to fight for exoneration based on these results. Davis was released on probation in January 2010, three years before the expected termination of his sentence. Four months later, on April 21, 2010, Judge Diane Woolard overturned the men’s convictions based on the DNA results. On July 14, 2010, prosecutors officially dismissed the charges against Larry Davis and Alan Northrop and they were exonerated.

Meredith "Gene" Town

town

In January 1994, after about a week of training, Robert Perez took over as head of the sex crimes unit of the police department in Wenatchee, Washington.

His investigation of allegations of the rape and molestation of children would set off a chain of events that would ultimately mushroom into one of the more baffling and painful episodes of mass sex abuse hysteria in American history.

The Wenatchee cases were among several groups of prosecutions that occurred in a wave of child sex abuse hysteria that swept through the country in the 1980s and early 1990s. Some (but not all) of these cases included allegations of satanic rituals. Many focused on day care centers. Nationally, there have been dozens of exonerations in child sex abuse hysteria cases.

In March 1994, just weeks after Perez took over the sex crimes unit he became the foster parent of nine-year-old Donna Everett of Wenatchee, Washington.

Everett was one of five children of Harold and Idella Everett. She had been in and out of foster care for two years, with her initial removal from home triggered in 1992 when she reported that two six-year-old boys had touched her genitals. Her 11-year-old sister, Melinda, joined her in the Perez home in June 1994.

Not long after Donna arrived in the Perez home, she said that she had been sexually molested by her parents.

A week later, Cherie Lee Town, 36, a mentally disabled woman with an IQ of 73, called police and accused her husband, Meredith, 36, of molesting their two sons. Perez arrested them in April 1994.

Meredith Town was charged with 14 counts of rape and molestation of seven children. He pleaded guilty to four counts of second-degree rape and molestation and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Cherie Lee Town was charged with 110 counts of child rape involving six children. She pleaded guilty to two counts of rape and was sentenced to 10 years and one month in prison.

In September 1994, after Donna Everett’s sister, Melinda, said her parents had sexually abused her as well, Harold Everett, 65, and Idella, 41, were arrested. They pleaded guilty and were sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

In March 1995, Perez put Donna Everett, by then 10 years old, in his police car and drove around Wenatchee and East Wenatchee. The girl pointed out places—homes and buildings—where she said she and other children were raped and molested beginning in January 1988. She identified 22 places in all, including the East Wenatchee Pentecostal Church of God House of Prayer.

She then went on to say that she had been raped or sexually molested by virtually every adult she had come in contact with and that the same had happened to almost every child she ever knew. She spoke of child-swapping orgies where adults took children six at a time into rooms and took turns having sex with them. Later, Donna's 12-year-old sister, Melinda, echoed the charges and added more names, first to Perez and eventually in court.

Police, prosecutors and social workers responded in force and began making arrests and filing thousands of charges of rape and molestation. Not all of the cases were built on the allegations of Donna and Melinda Everett.

In some cases, spouses embroiled in domestic disputes were both arrested and charges after one spouse alleged the other spouse was molesting their children. Adults and children were subjected to vigorous and lengthy interrogations and many, after resisting, began to tell bizarre stories of sex orgies involving children and went on to name friends, neighbors and relatives as participants.

Perez believed he had uncovered a giant sex ring made up of pedophiles that preyed on children. The group was referred as “The Circle” and at one point authorities believed there were more than 100 members.

Ultimately, authorities said they found 60 children, ages 5-16, who had been sexually abused or raped 29,726 times over a six-year period—an astonishing figure in the town of 55,000 residents.

A total of 43 people—including the pastor of the church, his wife, and 22 of other women—were eventually arrested and charged with thousands of counts of rape and an assortment of related charges. Many of the defendants were Hispanic: most were poor, illiterate or mentally ill.

The cases were built on the testimony of the children, on confessions and testimony from some of the accused, and on medical evidence that purported to show the children had been assaulted sexually.

Thirty of the defendants were convicted at trial, or pleaded guilty or no contest to some of the charges. Four, including the pastor and his wife, were acquitted at trial and the charges were dismissed against nine others.

The convictions or pleas of 18 defendants were later set aside. The charges against 11 of those defendants were dismissed and they were exonerated. The seven other defendants entered no contest pleas to lesser charges.

Of the remaining 12 defendants who were convicted or pleaded guilty or no contest, most received suspended sentences or were released immediately after receiving credit for time served.

In 1998, the Washington Court of Appeals received an appeal in Idella Everett’s case. The court appointed Whitman County Superior Court Judge Wallis Friel to hold a hearing to determine whether the Everetts’ legal rights had been violated.

In April 1998, Judge Friel issued a 64-page report that excoriated the evidence-gathering methods of Perez, other police, state social workers, and therapists.

Specifically, Judge Friel found that a videotaped recantation made by Melinda Everett in June 1996 was truthful. Melinda, who was by then 13, gave a 1½ hour video-taped statement in which she said that she had been pressured by Perez. She denied ever being sexually abused or witnessing anyone being sexually abused.

Although the decision applied only to Idella Everett’s case, the ruling would become a template that the appeals court used to set aside convictions of other defendants.

Judge Friel criticized Perez for continuing to be a foster parent to the two girls while investigating cases in which they were the chief accusers. That relationship, the judge said, was a factor in Perez’s failure to investigate the girl’s reliability as a witness.

Friel said Perez used improper interrogation techniques to get the two girls to accuse the Everetts and others and in getting Idella Everett to confess.

“It has become obvious during this hearing that Detective Perez was able to get the women of the Everett family to say whatever he wanted them to say,” the judge wrote.

The judge also noted Perez had little training as a sex-abuse investigator and little knowledge about how to interrogate child witnesses, and that “Perez's actions seem designed to create an atmosphere of fear among people who had an interest in the case.”

“Prevention of fair interrogation and access to the accusers, and the brainwashing of those who disagree with them, thwarts the judicial process in the same manner as improper interrogation procedures,” the judge said.

In September 1998, the appeals court, relying upon Judge Friel’s findings, set aside the convictions of Harold and Idella Everett. The charges were dismissed and they were released.

On January 10, 1999, the court of appeals, again relying upon Judge Friel’s decision, set aside Meredith Town’s conviction. The charges were then dismissed and he was released.

Summary courtesy of Maurice Possley, The National Registry of Exonerations. Reproduced with permission.

Last updated 8/1/2013