A wrongfully convicted former Washington prisoner was awarded $546,383 in compensation under a new state law for spending 10 years in prison on robbery and burglary charges for crimes he did not commit.
Brandon Redtailhawk Olebar was arrested following a February 2003 incident involving at least eight attackers who broke into the home of his sister’s ex-boyfriend. The man was pistol whipped and beaten unconscious during the 10-minute assault.
The victim told police officers his attackers had “feather” facial tattoos and he recognized Olebar’s sister as one of the assailants. Olebar, then 19 years old, was picked out of a photo lineup by the victim two days after the incident. Despite not having facial tattoos and presenting an alibi defense, Olebar was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 16.5 years in prison. His sister pleaded guilty to robbery charges and received 20 years.
In 2011, two law students, Nikki Carsley and Kathleen Kline, at the Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW), which is based out of a clinical law program at the University of Washington Law School, began investigating the case and developed a body of evidence to prove Olebar was not involved in the crime.
They were able to track down and interview three of the actual assailants, who admitted their involvement and excluded Olebar in sworn statements. With that evidence, IPNW attorney Fernanda Torres persuaded Mark Larson, the chief criminal deputy prosecutor to King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, to investigate further. Torres and Larson conducted new interviews, and the prosecutor’s office moved to vacate Olebar’s conviction and dismiss the charges. He was released from prison on December 20, 2013.
Under a 2013 Washington state law, Olebar moved for $50,000 in compensation for each year he had been wrongly imprisoned. [See: PLN, April 2015, p.37]. At a September 26, 2014 hearing, Superior Court Judge Laura Middaugh awarded him $496,712 for the 3,626 days he was incarcerated plus $49,671 in attorney fees.
“It’s been a really long process,” said Carsley. “So it’s nice to see it come to fruition.”
Olebar’s attorney, Todd Maybrown, praised the prosecutor’s office and the state Attorney General’s office for their cooperation. He also credited Olebar’s wife, who married him while he was in prison, for convincing IPNW to investigate.
Olebar and his daughter were eligible for tuition waivers from state colleges under Washington’s wrongful conviction statute, and Olebar said he planned to go back to school. He was the first person compensated under the state law and told the court he was “totally grateful” to be a part of history.
Unfortunately, Olebar, now 32, was arrested in January 2016 on charges of burglary and selling drugs and stolen firearms; he currently faces both state and federal charges.
“It is unfortunate that he has not taken advantage of his freedom and the compensation from the state and that he finds himself back in trouble with the law,” said Satterberg.
Sources: www.seattletimes.com, www.law.umich.edu
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login