Bradley Holbrook's Conviction Overturned Fifteen Years Later
Bradley Holbrook was a young successful lawyer with no criminal history when he was accused of abusing a young girl in 2001 when Holbrook and the girl were both visiting Holbrook's niece.
Holbrook's first trial resulted in a mistrial when the jury deadlocked, and was so disturbing to several jurors that they reached out to Holbrook's attorney prevent a future conviction. It came to light that the prosecutor, Cal Tichenor, told the jury - after the first trial's conclusion - that Holbrook had an illicit relationship with a young female student when he was a teacher, and had acted in other sexually inappropriate ways in the past. One of the jurors stated that the jury would have voted differently had it known about the past allegations.
Holbrook filed a bar complaint with the Oregon State Bar, and the prosecutor explained that the claims were rumors, described to him by Holbrook's ex-wife's sister, as allegedly told to her by Holbrook's ex-wife. The prosecutor did not ask the ex-wife to substantiate the claims, and could not otherwise find any support for the allegations. Before the second trial began, the defense provided the prosecutor with a statement from Holbrook's ex-wife in which she denied making any such claims to her sister and further denied any knowledge of the claims.
In the second trial, Holbrook's attorney presented evidence of his sexual propriety through several witnesses. During cross-examination of two of those witnesses, the prosecutor asked detailed questions regarding the claims by Holbrook's former sister-in-law. Holbrook's attorney objected that no evidence existed in the record to support the allegations, and moved for a new trial, but the objection was overruled and the motion for a new trial denied. Holbrook was convicted and sentenced.
Holbrook's conviction was upheld by the Oregon Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court denied review.
Holbrook then filed for post-conviction relief, arguing that his trial counsel was inadequate under Article I, section 11, of the Oregon Constitution and the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, for failing "to make attempt to prevent the state from introducing improper character impeachment," i.e., the prosecutor's statements during cross-examination. The post-conviction petition further alleged that Holbrook's attorney should have moved for a hearing outside the jury's presence to determine admissibility of the evidence. Holbrook sought to introduce testimony of his trial counsel regarding his knowledge at the time of trial. The evidence was excluded by the post-conviction court as irrelevant, and all of Holbrook's claims were denied.
The Court of Appeals reversed the post-conviction court's ruling and remanded Holbrook's case for a new post-conviction trial, holding that the testimony of Holbrook's trial counsel should have been admitted.
On remand, Holbrook presented evidence including testimony of Professor Laird Kirkpatrick, who opined that the prosecutor lacked a good faith basis for the cross-exmination, and cited studies indicating that conviction rates grow exponentially when prior-bad-act evidence is introduced to a jury. The post-conviction court found that the trial counsel's performance was inadequate; however, Holbrook had not been prejudiced by the error.
On appeal of that decision, the Court of Appeals found that "rumors" did not provide the prosecutor with a "reasonable or good faith" belief that the allegations discussed on cross-examination were true. Therefore, Holbrook's trial counsel was inadequate for failing to prevent or remedy the improper questions. The court further held - contrary to the post-conviction court - that the error did prejudice Holbrook because if the attorney had provided adequate representation in this regard it "could have tended to effect the outcome of the case."
Upon Holbrook's release in 2008, he was invited to live with one of the jurors from the first trial, Allen Scott, who kept in touch with Holbrook throughout his 6 1/2 years of incarceration.
Today, 15 years later, Holbrook's conviction has finally been overturned.