Seattle Law Firm Uncovers DNA Match for 1995 Yakima Rape Case;
Victim’s Brother-in-Law Implicated in Crime
SEATTLE (August 1, 2017) — Today the civil attorneys for a man who was exonerated of a rape conviction after DNA evidence proved his innocence announced that their independent investigation has revealed the identity of the man whose DNA was recovered from the scene of the 1995 crime.
The eight-person Seattle law firm gathered the suspect’s DNA for independent testing in May and the lab notified the firm of the match with the crime-scene DNA on July 19, 2017. The firm alerted law enforcement and the state of the finding shortly after.
Attorney Michael Wampold, of the Seattle law firm Peterson Wampold Rosato Feldman Luna, said the firm began the independent investigation to find the rapist as part of its efforts to hold law enforcement officials accountable for bungling the investigation that led to their client spending nearly a decade behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
In 1996, Ted Bradford was convicted of first-degree rape after being accused of attacking a woman in Yakima, Wash., raping her while her newborn lay nearby. Bradford pled not guilty and after six years of proclaiming his innocence, the non-profit Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW) examined the case, finding glaring issues with the investigation conducted by a Yakima detective.
In 2003, IPNW, citing problems with the investigation, obtained retesting of the DNA samples using new technology. Those tests concluded that DNA found at the crime scene, including DNA from items the rapist left at the victim’s home, did not match Bradford’s DNA.
The Washington Court of Appeals later ruled that since the DNA at the crime scene was not Bradford’s, it must belong to the rapist, referred to in court documents as “Contributor B.”
“We did what the Yakima Police couldn’t - or wouldn’t – do: we found Contributor B,” said Wampold.
Wampold added that the Yakima Prosecuting Attorney has not decided whether to launch an investigation.
“When IPNW evaluated Ted’ s case, it had the hallmarks of a false confession: a lengthy—and unrecorded— interrogation of a young suspect using coercive tactics, which produced a confession inconsistent with known facts and evidence in the case,” said Anna Tolin, IPNW’s Executive Director. “Ted’s case has become a powerful example of how wrongful convictions occur and he has become a nationwide advocate for policy reforms, including recording interrogations and increasing access to DNA testing.”
On August 1, 2008, Yakima Superior Court issued an order vacating Bradford’s judgment and sentence, but only after he had completed his sentence— spending more than nine years in prison and being forced to register as a sex offender.
Not willing to accept the findings of the DNA evidence, the Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office appealed the findings to the State Supreme Court unsuccessfully, and opted to retry Bradford despite the DNA evidence. The second jury found him not guilty with deliberations taking just under five hours.
In 2013, Bradford filed a civil suit against the then Yakima Police Detective Joseph Scherschligt who led the investigation, claiming Scherschligt violated his due process rights by focusing on Bradford as the only suspect even though he knew—or should have known—Bradford was innocent. The suit cited a litany of errors, oversights and highly questionable investigative procedures.
The case is currently under review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit after the U.S. District Court granted Scherschligt’s motion to dismiss the case, claiming he is exempt from civil prosecution under the concept of immunity. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has previously reversed presiding Judge Rice’s early decision to dismiss the case under a statute of limitations defense.
“It was apparent to us that the deck was stacked against Ted from the beginning, starting with his tragically handled investigation, and later with seemingly endless setbacks in his civil suit,” said Wampold. “We quickly concluded that the fastest way to obtain justice for Ted was to find the guy who committed the crime back in 1995, extinguishing any lingering doubt of Ted’s innocence.”
According to Wampold, his team of attorneys created a list of likely suspects, using information that was available as part of the public record, and began culling down the list through research. They were left with two suspects including the victim’s brother-in-law.
“What stood out to us was in the interviews, the victim mentioned her brother-in-law no fewer than four times, comparing the physical build of the attacker to him,” Wampold said. “It was also apparent from the victim’s interviews that the attacker was someone that knew her; the records show he was familiar with the victim and disguised his voice. I am no Sherlock Holmes, but to us, the brother-in-law stood out as a person of interest.”
According to Wampold, Scherschligt did not interview the brother-in-law despite the victim’s comments.
Earlier this year, Wampold attempted to obtain a DNA sample by tempting the brother-in-law with gum and other snacks as part of a deposition, which was unsuccessful. Ultimately, the firm hired a former law enforcement officer with experience in investigating major crimes to stake out the suspect’s home, where he retrieved a DNA sample from his garbage.
The investigator submitted the sample to an accredited lab, where it was compared with the DNA sample collected from items the rapist left at the scene. The lab results demonstrated that the two samples had a nearly 100 percent probability of having originated from the same person.
“While we had a strong suspicion that the victim’s brother-in-law was the attacker, it didn’t diminish the impact when we saw the report,” Wampold said. “When we told Ted and the folks at Innocence Project Northwest, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.”
“The news was overwhelming,” said Jackie McMurtrie, IPNW’s founder, who worked on Bradford’s case for nearly a decade. “We are extraordinarily grateful that PWRFL continued to investigate the case even after Ted was proven innocent. It is a tragedy that more reliable police practices and a thorough investigation could have prevented the heartbreaking losses suffered by Ted and his family.”
Wampold said that the revelation also brought with it responsibility. “We didn’t forget for a second that the victim’s brother-in-law was still walking free, a potential danger to the community. As soon as we had all the facts and reports, we immediately contacted the Yakima Police Department, the Yakima Prosecuting Attorney and the State Attorney General.”
According to Wampold, the Yakima Prosecuting Attorney just yesterday confirmed they had contacted the victim with the new information – a full ten days after they received notification – but prosecutors would not say they would open a new investigation.
“I cannot express my gratitude to Mike and the rest of his team, and the living, breathing saints at the Innocence Project Northwest,” Bradford added. “They’ve worked for years to help me win my freedom. Now through Mike Wampold’s dogged determination, we know who the bad guy is, and we hope he will be held accountable for this horrible crime.”
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ED NOTE: This news release contains information from public documents including Bradford v. Scherschligt (2:13-cv-3012 TOR).
Mark Firmani – 206-466-2700 | firstname.lastname@example.org