Washington Court of Appeals Issues Important Decision in Wrongful Conviction Compensation Case
June 28, 2016 – We are pleased to announce that Division III of the Washington Court of Appeals has issued an important decision in the first case ever tried under Washington’s wrongful conviction compensation statute.
In 2009, Robert Larson, Tyler Gassman, and Paul Statler were convicted of first degree robbery and assault based on the testimony of an informant who implicated the men in exchange for leniency. Mr. Larson received a sentence of 20 years; Mr. Gassman received a sentence of 26 years; and Mr. Statler received a sentence of 42 years.
Post-conviction counsel, including Matthew Zuchetto of Spokane and a team at the Innocence Project Northwest, uncovered new evidence that cast doubt on the convictions and showed the outcome of the trial likely would have been different had the new evidence been reviewed by the jury. In December 2012, the Honorable Michael P. Price overturned the 2009 convictions of Larson, Gassman, and Statler and ordered that the men be immediately released.
Larson, Gassman, and Statler—who always maintained their innocence—served more than four years in prison for crimes they did not commit.
In 2014, the men retained Toby J. Marshall (Terrell Marshall Law Group, PLLC in Seattle), Boyd M. Mayo (Law Office of Boyd M. Mayo, PLLC in Spokane), and Matthew Zuchetto (Matthew Zuchetto, Attorney at Law, in Spokane) to file a lawsuit against the State of Washington under the newly enacted Wrongly Convicted Persons Act, chapter 4.100 RCW. The Washington legislature enacted the statute in recognition of the fact “that persons convicted and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit have been uniquely victimized.” The statute entitles a wrongfully convicted person to compensation for each year spent wrongfully imprisoned as well as reentry services, including education, mentoring, and job skills development.
Following a bench trial in which fifteen witnesses testified over a period of four days, the Spokane County Superior Court rendered a decision in favor of the State of Washington. The Court concluded that while the men had cast reasonable doubt on their 2009 convictions, they failed to meet what the court found to be an “extraordinarily high” burden of proving actual innocence. Larson, Gassman, and Statler appealed.
On June 28, 2016, the Washington Court of Appeals held that the trial court incorrectly interpreted the statute and applied an erroneous burden of proof. The Court of Appeals remanded the case for the trial court to decide whether the men have proven actual innocence under the correct standard.