New DNA evidence uncovered by attorneys representing Ted Bradford in a federal lawsuit now links the rape to the victim’s brother-in-law. They’re hoping the Yakima County prosecutor and police act on it.
After a lengthy interrogation by Yakima police, Ted Bradford falsely confessed to a rape and spent nearly 10 years in prison.
His 1996 conviction was later vacated in Yakima County Superior Court after the Innocence Project Northwest intervened on his behalf. Bradford then was acquitted during his second trial in 2010, largely because of DNA evidence that proved another man’s skin cells were on a key piece of evidence.
But even then, Bradford’s attorneys say there are plenty of people — including Yakima police and the Yakima County prosecutor — who have remained convinced of Bradford’s guilt.
Thanks to Bradford’s team of dogged Seattle attorneys, a private investigator and saliva picked out of the garbage, a new suspect was identified almost two weeks ago after DNA sent to a private lab was matched to evidence left behind at the crime scene.
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The match confirmed what Bradford’s lawyers had come to suspect: The DNA belongs to the victim’s brother-in-law.
“They can’t deny it anymore. The city, the state, they’ve tried to deny this year after year and they can’t continue to deny this,” Bradford said last week of the ongoing effort to clear his name. “It’s a great feeling to know we finally have the truth.”
While he’s relieved to finally have definitive proof someone else was responsible for the rape, Bradford feels terrible for the victim and what the revelation of her brother-in-law’s alleged involvement will do to her and her family.
“I feel so bad for this woman who has had to live with this for this long. It was just horrible what happened to her,” said Bradford, now 44. “I think the system has failed her as well. For over two decades, she never got justice.”
Yakima County Prosecutor Joseph Brusic said Monday he’s duty bound to evaluate the new evidence and has been in contact with Yakima police.
But the DNA results alone aren’t enough to point the finger at someone else, he said. Under the statute of limitations, Brusic’s office now has one year to decide whether to potentially pursue criminal charges against another suspect.
“Just because DNA is found on some piece of evidence doesn’t mean it was put there by the perpetrator,” he said.
As for Bradford’s acquittal during his second trial, Brusic noted “innocence versus not guilty are two different concepts. When a jury finds a reason to acquit someone, they do so for many different reasons.”
Asked if he still considers Bradford guilty of rape, Brusic said, “Based on the information we have to date, yes.”
The Seattle Times is not naming the woman because the newspaper does not typically identify victims of sexual assault. Her brother-in-law is not being named because he has not been charged with a crime.
While the victim has been notified of the DNA evidence that allegedly implicates her brother-in-law, it’s unclear whether Yakima police intend to investigate him in connection with the rape. Police spokesman Mike Bastinelli said he can’t comment on the case because Bradford has filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the detective who led the rape investigation that resulted in Bradford’s conviction.
The lawsuit, filed in 2013, accuses Detective Joseph Scherschligt of using abusive investigative techniques and fabricating and concealing evidence during Bradford’s first trial in 1996.
Phone calls to Scherschligt’s attorney, Bob Christie, were not returned.
Bradford is also seeking compensation from the state for the years he spent in prison and the time after his release when he was required to register as a Level 3 sex offender.
Since this past summer, the state Attorney General’s Office has argued in court that Bradford isn’t entitled to compensation under a 2013 law because he didn’t file a timely claim and didn’t file documentation to verify his claim as a wrongly convicted person, court records show. Those arguments were rejected by the court and a bench trial is scheduled for October.
If he prevails, Bradford could receive more than $500,000.
Brionna Aho, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Bob Ferguson, said the office is reviewing the new information from Bradford’s attorneys and will decide in the next month or so on how to proceed.
However, the Attorney General’s Office is not weighing Bradford’s guilt or innocence, but whether his request for compensation complies with the law, she said.
Stocking over head
On a September morning in 1995, the 24-year-old Yakima woman saw her husband off to work, took her young son to school and returned home to feed her newborn. She was holding the baby when a man appeared in her kitchen doorway:
“When I first glanced at him, I remember thinking is this a joke. Because his build reminded me of my, my brother-in-law but he was much taller than my brother-in-law but it was real,” the woman told Scherschligt and Detective Rod Light a few days after the rape, according to a transcript of her statement to Yakima police.
The man had longish, dark hair, wore gloves and a nylon stocking over his head, and whispered in an apparent attempt to disguise his voice, the woman told police.
“And I don’t know how I ended up on the floor and he was on top of me. And he kept trying to cover my face but I wasn’t looking at him, I was trying to get my baby away cause he was on top of me and I tried moving the baby away so he wouldn’t hurt the baby,” she said in her statement.
The man eventually let her place the baby in a crib.
He dragged her downstairs to the basement, forced a mask with tape covering the eyeholes onto her face, handcuffed her hands behind her back and raped her, the woman told the detectives.
She still wore the mask when he led her back upstairs to soothe her crying baby, and she heard him leave in what sounded like a large truck, her statement says.
Six months later, Bradford, a 22-year-old married father of two, was arrested on misdemeanor charges of lewd conduct for exposing himself to women in the same neighborhood where the rape victim lived.
He was booked into jail and was supposed to go before a judge the next morning. Instead, he was driven across town, where he was interrogated by police for nearly nine hours.
“The questions became more intense as the day went on,” Bradford said. “They made it clear I wasn’t leaving this room until I told them I had did this crime.”
Hours into the interrogation, Bradford finally confessed, convinced he’d be cleared by the forensic evidence the detectives said was left at the scene.
“I knew I was innocent and I knew the tests wouldn’t come back to me,” Bradford said of the DNA evidence. “I just wanted out of that room. It was intimidating. It was horrible.”
The hourslong questioning by police wasn’t recorded, but Bradford’s confession was — and it’s riddled with nearly 30 errors based on the facts of the crime, including Bradford’s repeated insistence that a baby hadn’t been present, said Mike Wampold, one of Bradford’s attorneys.
Wampold said Bradford also had a solid alibi: He’d been at work at the time of the rape.
Bradford was charged with first-degree rape and first-degree burglary and went on trial in June 1996. Though the victim wasn’t able to identify the attacker, the state’s star witness, one of the victim’s neighbors, testified she’d seen Bradford driving around the neighborhood and staring at the victim’s house.
At the time, Scherschligt, the Yakima police detective, didn’t disclose to Bradford’s defense attorney that the woman had provided earlier statements that conflicted with her testimony at trial.
“Her story got better every time it was told. It became more incriminating and more specific to Ted,” Felix Luna, one of Wampold’s law partners, said of the neighbor.
Bradford was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The Innocence Project Northwest got involved in Bradford’s case about six years into his prison term.
The project, which started at the University of Washington in 1997, is part of a national network that works to exonerate wrongly-convicted people through DNA testing and other, newly discovered evidence.
In 2002, Jackie McMurtrie, a University of Washington law professor and the project’s then-director, assigned two law students to Bradford’s case. They were able to persuade Yakima’s prosecuting attorney to have evidence from the case retested.
“It took a long time because they (police) couldn’t find the mask, which turned out to be the critical piece of evidence,” McMurtrie said.
It was eventually found in an old evidence room and tested in 2005, when male DNA was found on the front of the mask and on the tape stuck across the eyeholes.
“Ted’s (DNA) profile wasn’t anywhere on any article of evidence,” McMurtrie said. “It was clear to us the person who put the tape on the mask was the perpetrator.”
Bradford served his full sentence and was released from the Stafford Creek Corrections Center near Aberdeen on Aug. 25, 2005.
Armed with the new DNA evidence, McMurtrie enlisted the help of Luna, one of her former law students, to file a motion to have Bradford’s conviction vacated. A Yakima County judge agreed the DNA evidence would likely have changed the outcome of his 1996 trial.
In September 2008, the Yakima County Prosecutor’s Office refiled rape and burglary charges against Bradford, this time adding aggravators that, if proved, would’ve likely sent him back to prison for years, his attorneys said.
He went on trial a second time in early 2010, and the jury deliberated for three hours before returning not-guilty verdicts.
“It was so great to finally get that acquittal,” Bradford said. “We have it framed in our living room.”
Bradford’s first wife divorced him while he was in prison, but he remarried in 2013 and lives with his wife, Jolene, in Yakima. He’s unemployed but works with Innocence Projects here and in other states and plays bass guitar for The Exoneree Band, whose members are all men who were wrongfully convicted of crimes.
Frustrated by what they saw as a refusal by police, prosecutors and the attorney general to acknowledge Bradford’s innocence, Bradford’s Seattle lawyers drew up a list of seven possible suspects. They hired a private investigator, who obtained DNA evidence that ruled out one suspect before they focused on the victim’s brother-in-law.
After months of failed attempts to collect the brother-in-law’s DNA, the private investigator staked out his house and took a bag of garbage that had been left on the curb, according to Bradford’s attorneys. Among the discarded items was a plastic water bottle with saliva on the rim.
That was in May.
The lawyers sent the bottle off to a private forensic lab in Virginia, where a DNA profile from the saliva was compared to the unknown DNA profile that the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab had generated years earlier from male skin cells left on the mask.
On July 19, Bradford’s attorneys learned the DNA profiles were a match.
The next day, Wampold wrote a letter to Yakima’s police chief, Brusic, the county prosecutor, and Ferguson. He included an affidavit from the private investigator detailing how the evidence was obtained and the lab report showing the DNA match.
“As part of our representation of Mr. Bradford, we have continued to investigate suspects and theories that were ignored by the investigative agencies,” he wrote. “As part of this investigation, we have obtained DNA evidence that conclusively shows that the rape was committed … by the crime victim’s brother-in-law.”
His letter also called on authorities to reinvestigate the rape.
Wampold said the work Yakima police did on the rape case wasn’t just sloppy but egregious.
“When the police make a mistake like this … the ripple effect is huge,” he said.
McMurtrie agrees: “It’s horrific, it’s heartbreaking and it shows the cost of wrongful conviction isn’t confined to the person who has been wrongly accused and convicted,” she said. “It has a terrible effect on victims and their families because the actual perpetrator is still out there.”
Editor’s note: The state Attorney General’s Office is not taking a position on Ted Bradford’s guilt or innocence, only whether his request for compensation complies with the law.