Oregon's Governor Issues First Pardon on the Basis of Innocence
Nationally, the Innocence Project has been responsible for hundreds of people being exonerated and/or removed from Death Row on the grounds of actual innocence.
For the first time in memory, Oregon’s Governor, Kate Brown, recently granted a Pardon to a person who had been incarcerated, based on the person’s innocence. This accomplishment is due to the hard work and dedication of the Oregon Innocence Project.
Oregon’s Constitution grants Oregon’s Governor the power to grant Pardons, but that power is rarely exercised. Earl Bain, a wrongfully convicted Army veteran once located in Portland, Oregon, is one of the few found deserving of this extraordinary relief.
The Oregon Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that strives for the release of wrongfully convicted individuals of all kinds, performed a crucial role in Mr. Bain’s case for the past five years. The Oregon Innocence Project is led by Steve Wax, a highly respected attorney who for many years was the head of Oregon’s Federal Public Defender. Mr. Wax has put together a staff of dedicated attorneys, investigators, paralegals and other staff, who strive mightily to gain freedom for people who are unjustly convicted in Oregon courts.
Mr. Bain had been wrongfully convicted on sexual abuse charges in Malheur County, and had served six years in prison. However, during his trial, there was a significant lack of evidence and witnesses to prove that Mr. Bain was guilty. The sole witness in Mr. Bain’s case had recanted her allegations in 2015, admitting that the alleged sexual abuse had never taken place. As a result, Governor Brown, as well as the Malheur County District Attorney, supported Mr. Bain’s pardon based on a claim of true innocence. Since being released, Mr. Bain has remained crime-free, providing ample assurance that the decision to grant him a Pardon was the correct decision. Mr. Bain, an Army National Guard veteran, now lives in Idaho where he is starting anew. Because of his pardon, Mr. Bain has been relieved from having to register as a sex offender, and is now able to rebuild his life.
Prior to seeking a Governor’s Pardon, the Oregon Innocence Project had requested to overturn Mr. Bain’s conviction through the court system; however, those efforts were denied. This meant that a Pardon from the governor was Mr. Bain’s only remaining avenue to gain his freedom. A Pardon based on actual innocence is a very rare occurrence, but due to the persistent and dedicated work of the Innocence Project, Mr. Bain’s freedom was made possible.
It deserves mention that Mr. Bain had been convicted because of Oregon’s unjust law (since overturned by the United States Supreme Court), that permitted juries to convict without being unanimous. Oregon’s rule permitting non-unanimous guilty verdicts was made part of Oregon’s Constitution in the early 1930’s, as a result of agitation by the KKK and other racist groups, supported by newspapers, that was explicitly based on anti-Semitism and racism. Oregon’s non-unanimous jury was designed to defeat the influence of minority groups within our justice system. Happily, the US Supreme Court struck down Oregon’s Constitutional provision permitting non-unanimous guilty verdicts in the recent case of Ramos vs. Louisiana. Our law firm has long been an opponent of the provision in the Oregon Constitution which permitted Oregonians to be convicted based on non-unanimous jury verdicts, and we are very gratified that the US Supreme Court finally ended that reprehensible practice.