Oregon Man Can’t Get Back to Normal After Being Wrongfully Convicted of Child Sexual Abuse
In 2017, Josh Horner was found guilty of sexually abusing a child. Sentenced to 50-years in prison – essentially the rest of his life – he only served 18 months after the Oregon Innocence Project looked into his case and found multiple errors, which resulted in his exoneration. Even though he received numerous apologies, his previous life is ruined.
The National Registry of Exonerations tells the story of 42-year old Josh Horner who was wrongly convicted of sexually abusing a child by a non-unanimous jury – a practice every state but Oregon has banned – and sentenced to live out the rest of his life in prison.
Horner was accused of sexually assaulting his own daughter in 2006 when she was 5. He was charged with 17 counts of “rape, sexual assault, and other sex offenses,” according to the National Registry of Exonerations. This was the same year Horner and the girl’s mother divorced, and eight years later, in 2014, Horner got engaged to another woman, whom his daughter, now 13, didn’t like.
That summer, the daughter was told she would start spending every other week with her father. As she didn’t want to, she told her mother her father had sexually abused her as a child and also claimed Horner killed her black Labrador, Lucy, in front of her for not giving in to his sexual demands.
It was this claim that ultimately helped save Horner, as he was able to prove Lucy was alive and well. He had given the dog away because it attacked a neighbor’s chickens.
The daughter’s testimony “was often disjointed, and at times she lost her composure on the witness stand or was unable to remember details of the alleged assaults,” according to the NRE. Horner’s defense argued the girl actually suffered from PTSD due to sexual abuse by her half-brother, and argued that many of the details she attributed to Horner resembled abuse from her half-sibling.
Investigators of Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel tried to inform the daughter that the dog, Lucy, was still alive, but the girl “was uncooperative.” “She failed to show up for a scheduled meeting, and then refused to talk with investigators when they tracked her down,” NRE wrote.
Hummel, who at the time wasn’t sure Horner was innocent, asked to dismiss the charges against him, and his motion was granted.
“Mr. Horner, on behalf of the state of Oregon, I apologize that untrue evidence was used against you in your trial,” Hummel said at the time. “That should happen to no one.”
In his first public interview since being accused, Horner described what he went to prison for as worse than murder.
“Sometimes I catch myself thinking, ‘Geez, what a terrible story.’ And it’s my own story,” he said. “To be accused of something … and then to be vindicated from it. What story does somebody believe?”
Gary Lynch, Horner’s friend, who met him through a shared passion – building and driving race cars –said he never doubted his friend’s innocence, but told OPB that if he didn’t know Horner, he might believe he was guilty.
“If I hadn’t known him, if somebody in this room was accused and I didn’t know them, I’d say, ‘Well, it’s a 50-50 deal, maybe, maybe not,’” Lynch said.
“That kind of ambiguity sticks, especially so in Horner’s case, because the charges were dismissed without prejudice. And those two little words – without prejudice – make a big legal difference,” OPB reported. This means the case can be reopened in the future if more information is found, Redmond Police Department Lt. Curtis Chambers said.
“It’s important to believe juvenile sex crime victims and giving them opportunity to process and ultimately disclose in the time frame that’s comfortable to them,” Chambers said.
In addition, police are keeping property seized from Horner as part of the investigation, even though it was deemed unnecessary.
As for Horner, who has now been out of prison for seven months, life isn’t completely back to normal. Before all this, Horner was a social guy who owned a plumbing company. But since the trial, he said he doesn’t trust people anymore, and wouldn’t enter a stranger’s house for anything.
“The one place he said he still feels like his old self is an industrial garage in Redmond. There, he climbed into the driver’s seat of a shiny blue race car,” OPB reported.
“There’s really no room for error. And things happen really fast in these cars,” Horner explained. “Not on purpose. If things go bad in them, they go in every direction.”
Horner also wants to help others who have been wrongly convicted in any way he can, but ultimately just wants to forget the last few years of his life and some people’s opinions of him and move on.
“To sift through what other people might think, you know, and then hold on to that. That’s heavy damage,” he said.