When a person is tried of a crime, their innocence or guilt hinges on what can be proven in a court of law. That usually means the prosecution and defense call witnesses to give their testimonies and evidence is presented to bolster each side’s case.
Usually, all of the evidence presented is some physical material from the scene of the crime – a fingerprint, some bit of DNA, maybe a scrap of cloth. But in one particular case, the most important piece of evidence would be canine in nature…
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In March of 2017, a man named Joshua was in an Oregon courtroom, defending himself after being charged with an unbelievably heinous crime. He was accused of one of the most universally reviled acts: the sexual abuse of a minor.
Heart Breaking Accuser
And even more despicable in this case, the person accusing Joshua and the supposed victim was his own daughter. She alleged that beginning in 2006, when she was just five years old, Joshua began to abuse her, right around the time that her parents divorced.
She testified that the abuse continued off and on until 2013, saying that she didn’t come forward and tell anyone about the abuse until 2014 because she lived in terror of her father. Joshua had allegedly threatened to harm her family and her pets if she talked.
“What would he threaten to do with your animals?” asked the prosecuting attorney. “Kill them,” she replied. “He followed through with it.” When the prosecutor asked her to elaborate, she said, “He shot my dog Lucy right in front of me.”
I Had Enough
“He was just trying to touch me again and I really had enough of it and Lucy had to pay for it,” she continued. To hear these things coming out of his daughter’s mouth was a nightmare for Joshua. The 41-year-old from Redmond, Oregon completely denied her claims and said that nothing even close to what she had described happened.
It’s a Lie
Not only had he not abused his daughter, Joshua Horner said, her story about him killing her dog Lucy was a complete fabrication. He said the dog hadn’t been killed or even shot and that he’d given the dog away himself.
But as it is with most child abuse cases, there was no evidence to prove or disprove the alleged victims claims. It was a heart wrenching case of he-said-she-said that, if true, made the father a monster and, if false, made the daughter one.
Ultimately, the jury found Joshua guilty, though the decision was not unanimous. Oregon is one of only two states that allow a jury to deliver a non-unanimous guilty verdict and, in all but one of the charges against him, they were split. That didn’t stop the judge from sentencing him to 50 years in prison in April of 2017.
Still, Joshua maintained that he’d done anything wrong. He was determined to prove his innocence and approached it from two different angles. He appealed against the first trial on the grounds that the defense had not been allowed to present certain pieces of evidence that would have helped exonerate him. An appeals court granted his request for a second trial.
Joshua also reached out to the Oregon Innocence Project to see if they could help. When the organization’s legal director, Steve Wax, read through the details of the case, a lot of red flags stuck out to him. The first of which was that he believed the timing of her accusations was questionable.
The girl had been living with her mother at the time that she revealed the abuse. She regularly visited her father Joshua, who lived with his new girlfriend Kelli, apparently without any issues. But her allegations suddenly emerged when the family dynamic was about to change.
“The allegation that the complainant made was made the same week she learned Mr. Horner was going to remarry,” Wax said. According to her own testimony in court, she didn’t like Joshua’s new wife. She had also made a previous assault allegation against Kelli that police investigated but found to be baseless.
One Solid Thing
But to Wax, there was one thing that could poke a hole to big to ignore in the allegations against Joshua: the killing of the dog, Lucy. “In doing this work, especially in a case where you have no other witnesses and no forensic evidence, you try to find something objective prosecutors and the judge can look at,” he said. “This was one objective thing.”
If Lucy was still alive, as Joshua claimed, it would show that his daughter had lied about a major element of the story. The trouble was finding the dog that Joshua said he’d given away years prior. The first obstacle to finding her was that Joshua only knew the man he’d given the dog away to as “Fred.”
Can’t Keep Her
Fortunately, Lucy was a distinctive looking dog. She was a black lab mix with unusually long ears. Joshua had originally given her away, he said, because she kept escaping from his yard into his neighbor’s to kill his chickens. He was able to point the attorneys at the Oregon Innocence project to a local veterinarian who had treated Lucy her whole life.
The vet remembered the dog and knew the man she was currently living with, whose full name was Fred Kromen. Still, there was the matter of tracking the man down. The Oregon Innocence project brought their concerns about Joshua’s conviction to the district attorney, John Hummel who, upon hearing their evidence, agreed to help in tracking down Lucy and assigned an investigator to work alongside the attorneys.
Eventually, they were able to track down Fred Kromen in Gearhart, Oregon, a town four and a half hours away on the coast. They arranged to meet with him and when they did, Lucy was there. “She was drinking a bowl of water and sitting in the shade underneath a porch. We played with her. Petted her. It was wonderful,” said Lisa Christon, the investigator assigned by the DA.
With this clear evidence that Joshua’s daughter had lied about at least one element of her story, prosecutors immediately tried to contact her. She failed to show up for a scheduled meeting in August, then disappeared. When she was later spotted in September at her mother’s house outside Redmond, they tried to contact her again.
She’s a Runner
“My investigator immediately jumped in his car and sped to the home,” Hummel said. “As he pulled up the driveway, he saw the named victim sitting on the front porch. He parked his car but when he got out, she was already sprinting down the driveway and disappeared in the distance.”
Because his accuser refused to cooperate with the district attorney, Hummel announced that his office would not seek the second trial against Joshua Horner. “While I cannot say with certainty that Mr. Horner did not sexually abuse the named victim, I can say I am not convinced by a preponderance of the evidence that is now available that he did, and I am certainly not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt,” he wrote in his motion.