Discovery of dog saves Oregon man from sex crime conviction

An Oregon man sentenced to 50 years in prison for sex abuse had his conviction overturned by a dog.

A judge dismissed Joshua Horner’s case Monday, more than a month after he walked out of Deschutes County Jail when an Oregon Court of Appeals reversed his conviction and ordered a new trial when a black Labrador named Lucy turned out to be alive — Horner's accuser had claimed he shot the dog dead.

Horner will no longer have to stand trial for a second time.

Horner, a plumber from Redmond, was indicted on sex abuse charges in 2014. The case went to trial in March 2017, during which the complainant said Horner shot her dog and threatened to shoot more of her pets if she went to the police about the alleged assault.

Josh Horner with his wife Kelli Horner after his release from the Deschutes County Jail in Bend, Ore.

Josh Horner with his wife Kelli Horner after his release from the Deschutes County Jail in Bend, Ore. (AP)

Horner insisted he never shot the dog.

Six months later, a jury convicted Horner, though the verdict was not unanimous.

Oregon Innocence Project took on Horner’s case and raised concerns about the conviction to Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel, who then agreed to work with the group. A group volunteer and an official from Hummel’s office began searching for the black Labrador to see whether she was alive or dead.

They initially had trouble locating the dog’s owner.

"They made a couple trips around Deschutes County; he was not there," said Steve Wax, legal director of the Oregon Innocence Project. "We heard he was in Seattle. Then we learned he had a place on the Oregon Coast."

They eventually found the dog in Gearhart, a town northwest 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," Oregon Innocence Project volunteer Lisa Christon said, adding that Lucy had distinctive features that indicated she was the dog mentioned in the case.

"She's a very distinctive-looking black Lab; not purebred. She's got this adorable shaped head and really long ears," Christon said.

A 50-year sentence in a sex abuse case against Horner was dismissed Monday by Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel after the Oregon Innocence Project found holes in the 2017 conviction that undermined the credibility of the complainant, including that Horner had shot the dog in front of her.

A 50-year sentence in a sex abuse case against Horner was dismissed Monday by Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel after the Oregon Innocence Project found holes in the 2017 conviction that undermined the credibility of the complainant, including that Horner had shot the dog in front of her. (AP)

The dog's existence showed the complainant was lying in her testimony — enough evidence for Hummel to request the case be dismissed. The woman also failed to show up to a meeting in August to address her statement.

"Lucy the dog was not shot. Lucy the dog is alive and well," Hummel's office said in a statement.

"While I cannot say with certainty that Mr. Horner did not sexually abuse the named victim I can say I am not convinced by a preponderance of evidence that he did and I am certainly not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt," Hummel said Monday.

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," Horner said, referring to his wife.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.