1 judge said release her, another disagreed, so Sarah Pearce is back in prison again

Sarah Pearce.
Sarah Pearce.

In May, after about two years of freedom, Sarah Pearce returned to an Idaho prison after about six months of a drug treatment program.

Her efforts since then apparently satisfied one judge in Canyon County, who agreed to release her on probation Monday. But in a separate case in Ada County, a judge on Wednesday denied a similar request, saying he doesn’t believe Pearce “internalized any of the training (she was) provided.”

Pearce, 33, is best known for once being the focus of the Idaho Innocence Project, which won reconsideration of her conviction in a 2000 attack on a motorist passing through Canyon County. One of five people convicted in that incident, she had been sentenced to 15 years to life. After spending a dozen years in prison, she was released in 2014 and her sentence modified to time served with five years’ probation.

But Pearce last December admitted to using methamphetamine, violating her probation. Her probation officer called her immature and “highly manipulative” in a report submitted to the court.

She pleaded guilty to a drug possession charge in Ada County, and within a week’s time last May, judges in Canyon and Ada counties in two separate hearings sent her to the prison-based treatment program, commonly known as a rider.

At her first rider review this week, in Canyon County for the probation violation, court records show Third District Judge Juneal Kerrick placed Pearce on probation for three years.

But on Wednesday in Ada County, prosecutors called Pearce “an individual that does not seem to believe the rules apply to her” and described multiple disciplinary issues while she was incarcerated this year.

Pearce’s defense argued that the Homedale woman now has an understanding of her addiction and is making strides, noting the Canyon County probation decision. And Pearce herself told the court she felt her rider program “completely saved (her) life,” and she had lined up housing, treatment programs and a job with Boise Barber College pending her release.

“Change is a struggle,” she told Judge Michael Reardon, pausing to fight back tears. “But I’m growing stronger every day, and I’m proud.”

Reardon questioned Pearce’s perception of her behavior while incarcerated, saying there was a “vast divergence” between reports from Idaho Department of Correction officials and Pearce’s own testimony.

And while Pearce’s focus has been on fighting her addiction, Reardon said, she’s “missing a big piece — how to relate to others in society.”

In Canyon County, Judge Kerrick also noted that there were “disciplinary issues ... related to the defendant’s impulsivity,” according to court minutes from the hearing, which also state Kerrick “emphasized the importance of the defendant listening and being responsive and open to continued rehabilitation.”

Kerrick, the same judge who sentenced Pearce to prison for the 2000 attack, then amended her sentence to time served in 2014, acknowledged the pending Ada County decision in her Monday ruling and said that if Pearce were released from prison she should make restitution a priority, according to court records.

Pearce’s original sentence for the Ada County drug possession was up to 7 years in prison, eligible for parole after 3.

Reardon kept that prison time at the same length, but did Pearce one favor Wednesday: She’ll now be eligible for parole after just a year and a half.

The Statesman’s Kristin Rodine contributed.

Nicole Blanchard: 208-377-6410, @NMBlanchard