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Former inmate makes case for expanded DNA testing in Oregon

Ted Bradford was acquitted in Washington state after test — after serving 10 years for rape

TRIBUNE PHOTO: PETER WONG - Ted Bradford, center, talks about how DNA testing led to his eventual acquittal on a rape charge in Washington state, but only after he served a 10-year prison sentence. Flanking him at a Wednesday appearance at the Capitol were Aliza Kaplan, associate professor at Lewis & Clark law school, and Steven Wax, legal director of the Oregon Innocence Project and former federal public defender for Oregon.Ted Bradford says he would rather avoid the limelight after a successful but years-long effort to exonerate himself of rape, for which he served 10 years in prison in Washington state.

But Bradford came to Salem on Wednesday to testify in favor of changes in Oregon law to expand the availability of DNA testing and require judges to state their reasons for denials.

“If my story could help just one person out there who is wrongly convicted and sitting in prison right now with no hope — if I can reach that person in any way — it just makes it worth it,” he told reporters before a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee.

“I support this bill because it helps right wrongs in our justice system.”

Lawmakers on the panel are considering House Bill 3206, sponsored jointly by Democratic Reps. Jennifer Williamson of Portland and Ann Lininger of Lake Oswego. The bill would allow a defendant to seek DNA testing if connected with any relevant crime — not just murder or sex crimes — and require judges to put on the record their reasons for denial.

“For the overwhelming majority of crimes, DNA just isn’t an issue,” says Steven Wax, legal director of the Oregon Innocence Project, and for 27 years, the federal public defender for Oregon.

“We are suggesting that if there is any crime in which DNA evidence is relevant, testing should be available. Innocence is innocence, guilt is guilt, and let’s not make a false distinction.”

But the Oregon District Attorneys Association opposes the bill. It says the bill would allow a broad range of cases to be reopened and would add to costs.

“The proposed amendment confuses process to free those who didn’t commit a crime with process to permit late-in-time challenges questioning whether then the state can still prove their guilt,” says the statement provided by Rod Underhill, the Multnomah County district attorney.

Two other cosponsors are the Democratic chairmen of the judiciary committees, Rep. Jeff Barker of Aloha and Sen. Floyd Prozanski of Eugene.

Oregon was among the first states with a DNA testing law back in 2001, but Wax says it needs to be updated. Although the crime lab of the Oregon State Police in Portland would conduct most such tests, Wax says a judge should have the discretion to order a test by another lab for good cause.

Wax acknowledges there are problems with storing years-old evidence — not just DNA evidence — but they are outside the scope of HB 3206.

“There is a real-world problem that exists in Oregon, as it does elsewhere, with old cases,” he says. “Evidence is sometimes destroyed in the normal course, and sometimes, it is lost.”

The Oregon branch of the Innocence Project, a national effort based in New York, began last year. Wax says the state project is looking into about 100 cases.

Bradford, now 36, was convicted of rape in 1996. He served 10 years in prison and was released in 2005, but remained on probation for two years and was required to register as a sex offender.

Although Innocence Project Northwest, based in Seattle, accepted his case in 2002, Bradford managed to get his original conviction overturned only in 2007. He credits more sophisticated DNA testing.

“What they could not find at my first trial in 1996, they were able to uncover years later — unfortunately, after I had done all my time,” he says.

Yakima County prosecutors chose to try him again on charges of first-degree rape and burglary, but he was acquitted in 2010.

“It has meant the world,” Bradford says. “My world was turned upside down.”

He had been married with two children, and was employed two decades ago. He says employment has been difficult to find, and he is still reforging relationships with family and friends.


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