March 16, 2014 in Idaho

Idaho woman serving life sentence freed after deal

Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Sarah Pearce, right, hugs her mom, Anita Brown, after being released from Canyon County Jail in Caldwell, Idaho, on Friday.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE – A 31-year-old woman sentenced to life in prison for a southwest Idaho attack she has always said she took no part in has been released from prison after serving nearly 12 years.

Sarah Pearce was freed Friday after 3rd District Court Judge Juneal Kerrick granted post-conviction relief and amended Pearce’s 2003 sentence to time served after a compromise between Canyon County prosecutors and attorneys with the Idaho Innocence Project.

“This is a tragic misidentification,” Pearce told Kerrick. “I did not commit this crime, but all the same I was punished for it. The experience goes almost too deep for words. I will try to walk away from this taking more from it than it has taken from me.”

Pearce was one of four people convicted in the roadside kidnapping, beating and stabbing of Linda LeBrane, a Washington state woman left to die alongside her car after it was set on fire. LeBrane was driving through Idaho on Interstate 84 in June 2000, headed from her Port Townsend, Wash., home to her family cabin in Utah, when she was forced from the road.

Her assailants took her and her car to a secluded road west of Caldwell, where they hit her with a metal baseball bat, repeatedly stabbed and slashed her, and left her for dead next to her car, which they set on fire, authorities said.

When her attackers left, LeBrane rolled away from the burning car and was rescued by passers-by who saw the flames.

“Sarah was the ringleader,” LeBrane said in court. “She kept screaming to the men … ‘kill her, kill her.’ I begged her again and again for mercy and she showed me no mercy.”

The Idaho Innocence Project has worked on Pearce’s behalf since 2007 on the belief her conviction was a case of mistaken identity.

The group said LeBrane reported that the woman who joined her three male attackers was petite, pretty and spoke Spanish to one of the men, who could have been her boyfriend. Pearce is 5 feet 6 inches tall, doesn’t date men, was 17 at the time and doesn’t speak Spanish. The Idaho Innocence Project also said that 30 minutes after a witness claimed to have spotted Pearce at a motel with the three men, a group matching the attackers’ descriptions – three Hispanic men and a Hispanic woman in a maroon car – used the victim’s stolen credit card 60 miles away in Jordan Valley, Ore.

“We think it was a case of mistaken identity pure and simple, with tragic consequences,” said Greg Hampikian, director of the Idaho Innocence Project.

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