Quietly, at the end of October, a Nampa man serving four consecutive life sentences plus 55 years walked out of an Idaho prison.
Four months earlier, in a decision that received no public attention, Senior Canyon County Judge Renae Hoff ruled that John David Wurdemann received inadequate legal representation at his 2002 trial. Hoff threw out Wurdemann’s conviction and sentence, and ordered a new trial, pending resolution of an appeal before the Idaho Supreme Court.
Wurdemann was released from prison after posting $100,000 bond.
A Canyon County jury convicted Wurdemann, now 45, of conspiracy, attempted murder, aggravated battery, robbery, kidnapping and possession of a controlled substance in a June 2000 assault on a motorist passing through Canyon County.
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Linda LeBrane, from Washington state, was on her way to Utah when she was forced off Interstate 84 west of Caldwell and severely beaten. Her car was also set on fire.
Wurdemann maintained his innocence after he was arrested and throughout an appeals process that has gone on since 2003. He argued that he was the victim of mistaken identity.
LeBrane failed to identify Wurdemann initially in a photo lineup as one of her four assailants, but later picked him out of a video lineup. Defense attorneys said the suspects’ appearances did not match the descriptions LeBrane provided at the time of the attack.
However, defense attorneys Scott Fouser and Van Bishop never brought an expert to court to challenge the identifications and argue that they were flawed.
The “identifications were likely not reliable and may have been provided under suggestive conditions,” Hoff found. “These attorneys were ineffective by failing to take the necessary steps to challenge the line-ups and identifications properly.”
Deputy Canyon County Prosecutor Zachary Wesley, who handled the appeal before Hoff, argued that the defense at trial vigorously cross-examined LeBrane about her identifications of Wurdemann and co-defendants Sarah Pearce, Kenneth Wurdemann Jr. and Jeremy Flores Sanchez.
Wesley said that it was a defense strategy not to call a witness identification expert at trial and that Wurdemann should not be able to argue the lack of expert testimony was an attorney misstep.
Pearce, who was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison on similar charges, also maintained her innocence and claimed LeBrane misidentified her. She was released early from prison in March 2014 after the Idaho Innocence Project took up her case, but her conviction was not overturned and she was given five years of probation to serve.
Wurdemann’s co-defendants now
Now 33, Pearce in recent months faces drug-related charges in Gem and Ada counties, and as a result is accused of violating her probation in Canyon County. A report on her probation violation calls her “highly manipulative” and says Pearce’s mother believes Pearce needs to be sent to an inpatient treatment program for meth use.
Kenneth Wurdemann Jr., now 47, was sentenced to 10 to 13 years in prison for just two charges related to the attack. Briefly paroled and then returned to prison on a parole violation, he is scheduled to be released again on Dec. 26 after he completes his sentence.
Sanchez, now 40, is serving a life sentence at the Idaho State Correctional Institution in Boise. His conviction was upheld last year by the Idaho Supreme Court.