Crime

More prison for Sarah Pearce, past focus of Innocence Project

Sarah Pearce hugs her mom, Anita Truesdale, in March 2014 after being released early from a sentence of 15 years to life in prison for being part of an assault on a motorist passing through Canyon County in June 2000. The Idaho Innocence Project worked for several years to free Pearce, arguing that she had been mistakenly convicted. Since her release, she has admitted to a probation violation that could return her to prison.
Sarah Pearce hugs her mom, Anita Truesdale, in March 2014 after being released early from a sentence of 15 years to life in prison for being part of an assault on a motorist passing through Canyon County in June 2000. The Idaho Innocence Project worked for several years to free Pearce, arguing that she had been mistakenly convicted. Since her release, she has admitted to a probation violation that could return her to prison. Idaho Statesman file

Sarah Pearce, who spent a dozen years in prison for her part in the brutal beating of a motorist in Canyon County, will return there after admitting to a probation violation earlier this year.

Pearce, one of five people convicted in the attack in 2000 on Linda LeBrane, steadfastly denied guilt and the Idaho Innocence Project championed her cause, prompting reconsideration of her sentence. She was not exonerated, but her sentence of 15 years to life was amended to time served and five years probation.

She was arrested a couple of times last fall and charged with drug-related crimes, later admitting to violating that probation. Last winter, her probation officer called her immature and “highly manipulative” in a report to court officials, adding that Pearce’s mother “is believed to work harder at the defendant’s probation” than Pearce herself did.

Thursday morning, 3rd District Judge Juneal Kerrick ordered Pearce to serve up to a year in a prison-based treatment program. She retained jurisdiction on the case, meaning she’ll review Pearce’s progress to determine if Pearce will be released again.

If Kerrick approves of Pearce’s progress and she again leaves prison, she will be expected to enter a group living program like Boise’s Chrysalis House, which focuses on helping women just leaving prison transition back into the world.

Pearce’s attorney argued Pearce was only a danger to herself, and asked for the retained jurisdiction, also called a “rider.”

“She will be able to get some tools on the rider that she needs to get out, get employed and stay busy,” he said.

Pearce was represented by the Canyon County Public Defender’s Office, which would not confirm her attorney’s name.

Deputy Prosecutor Chris Boyd, noting that Pearce was first convicted in a violent crime, said the fact that she turned back to meth indicated her danger to society. He pushed for Pearce to finish out her sentence for the attack on LeBrane.

At the disposition, Kerrick conceded it was a complicated case, with many components to consider: the 2000 attack, Pearce’s “arrested emotional development,” her PTSD diagnosis, Pearce’s anger and grief over being incarcerated for something she said she didn’t do.

Pearce, asked if she wanted to comment on her probation violation, needed urging to speak up and kept drifting back from the microphone.

But she said clearly: “I wish that I would have known how to ask for help. I should have never turned back to drugs.”

Kerrick gave Pearce her original sentence and also handled the resentencing in 2014. The judge said Thursday: “I think back about the resentencing hearing, and I told you then, that the sentence I gave originally was entirely appropriate for the crimes if you’d done the crimes. They were horrible crimes. That woman suffered so terribly. And it’s the kind of thing that just jars a community. And I also said that if you had not done the crimes, then even one day was too many.”

Kerrick noted that Pearce had substance abuse issues since she was a teenager, and that the years Pearce spent in prison likely didn’t help since she didn’t complete drug treatment (something that usually happens at the end of a prison sentence, according to Kerrick). But, Kerrick said, Pearce wasn’t “in any way, shape or form ready to be on probation.”

After going through substance abuse treatment during the rider, Pearce might see an opportunity to transition back into the community, the judge said.

“You’re like almost every addict: you have really good intentions now and I don’t doubt the sincerity of that at all. I know you want to give up the drugs,” Kerrick said. “It is not a matter of making up your mind. It is a horrific addiction. Even in the best of circumstances people struggle... It’s not a question of making up your mind. It’s so much more than that, and getting in the right kind of environment.”

Erin Fenner: 208-377-6207, @erinfenner

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