Sarah Pearce freed after 11 years in prison

krodine@idahostatesman.comMarch 14, 2014 

After more than 11 years in prison, Sarah Pearce left a Canyon County courtroom late Friday afternoon ready to resume her life.

She wasn’t exonerated, as she and her supporters had hoped for years. The six felony guilty verdicts for a vicious attack on a passing motorist in Canyon County in June 2000 stand.

But 3rd District Judge Juneal Kerrick, who in January 2004 sentenced Pearce to 15 years to life, on Friday amended her sentence to time served, plus five more years of supervised release. An additional three years of prison time could be imposed if she violates her probation. Without the amended sentence, the earliest Pearce could have gained parole would have been August 2017.

Victim Linda LeBrane spoke movingly of the pain, fear and life-altering trauma she has suffered for the past 14 years, insisting that it was Pearce who helped commandeer her car and urged three men to kill LeBrane. Her assailants beat her, robbed, stabbed her and left her for dead.

"Sarah was the ringleader," LeBrane said. "The past 14 years have been devastating for me. I have lost my ability to work ... I lost my family home to foreclosure ... There's been a dramatic loss of who I am, or was ... joyful, hopeful, feeling safe."

Pearce responded by softly stating, “This is a tragic misidentification ... 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.”

Wearing a black sweater, white shirt and a smile, Pearce walked into the courtroom free of the jailhouse orange she wore in past appearances. Admonished not to talk to family members who filled about half of the courtroom, she winked and smiled at her mother before taking her seat at the plaintiff’s table.

Her mom, Anita Brown of Homedale, was joined by about 25 other family members, friends and representatives of the Idaho Innocence Project, which has worked to free Pearce since 2007.

Security was unusually tight in the 3rd District Courtroom, with one of the two access doors locked and the other door manned by a bailiff who checked the bags of each person who entered and passed a security wand over them.

Pearce, now 31, was 19 when she was indicted on six felonies: aggravated battery, kidnapping, robbery, criminal conspiracy and aiding and abetting attempted first-degree murder.

The deal reached Friday was first announced last month. Click here for more about it and further background on Pearce's case.

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