High court upholds Canyon woman's conviction

Sarah Pearce was convicted in the 2000 kidnapping and attack of a Washington woman.

krodine@idahostatesman.comAugust 29, 2008 

The Idaho Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a Canyon County woman's attempt to overturn her conviction in the brutal June 2000 kidnapping and attack on a Washington woman who was driving through Canyon County on Interstate 84.

Sarah Pearce, 25, was one of four people convicted on multiple charges including robbery, conspiracy, kidnapping, aggravated battery and aiding and abetting attempted first-degree murder. Linda LeBrane was forced off the road near Sand Hollow and abducted, then repeatedly beaten with a baseball bat and stabbed before her assailants set her car on fire and left her for dead near a beet field June 15, 2000.

Pearce's attorneys argued that she was not the woman involved in the pre-dawn attack, and that the 3rd District Court erred when it did not allow her expert witness to testify about the problems with eyewitness identification or instruct the jury about those problems. They also contended the court violated her due process rights when it failed to admit the prosecutor's arguments from co-defendants' trials.

The Idaho Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, and in April, Pearce took her case to the state's highest court, which ruled against her by a 4-to-1 majority. Justice Warren Jones dissented, saying that the case should be returned to District Court for a possible new trial.

Jones said 3rd District Judge Juneal Kerrick committed a reversible error when she did not find the defense's expert witness qualified to testify. That decision likely helped lead to the guilty verdict by denying Pearce the ability to rebut prosecution evidence, Jones said.

The majority of the high court found that the district judge committed no errors in Pearce's trial.

Pearce, Jeremy Sanchez and brothers John and Kenneth Wurdemann were arrested two years after the attack and identified by LeBrane, who said this spring she is still positive the right people were arrested and convicted. LeBrane's ordeal got renewed national attention in May when she recounted her story on "I Survived," a new show on the Biography Channel.

Pearce was convicted and sentenced to 15 years to life. Kenneth Wurdemann pleaded guilty to robbery and aggravated assault and was sentenced to spend 10 to 13 years in prison. Sanchez and John Wurdemann were sentenced to four life terms; Wurdemann also is appealing his case and contends he was misidentified.

Kristin Rodine: 377-6447

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