On a fall morning 12 years ago, a woman was nursing her infant in her Yakima home when a man wearing a nylon stocking over his head broke...

Share story

On a fall morning 12 years ago, a woman was nursing her infant in her Yakima home when a man wearing a nylon stocking over his head broke in. He covered her face with a mask, then raped her while her baby wailed in the background.

Ted L. Bradford was convicted of the rape and completed a nine-year prison sentence, but did not stop professing his innocence. DNA, he claimed, would prove him right.

Tuesday, a state appeals court agreed, making Bradford the first person in Washington whose conviction was overturned because of DNA evidence.

A three-judge panel in Spokane ruled that a jury likely would have let Bradford go free had it known the DNA profile of another, unknown man was found on the mask. That ruling upholds one by a lower-court judge last year that vacated the conviction.

“We’re just delighted that both the trial court and court of appeals found the weight of the scientific evidence would probably result in a different verdict,” said Jackie McMurtrie, director of the Innocence Project Northwest, which represented Bradford. “Mr. Bradford is innocent.”

The ruling, however, does not end Bradford’s case. Kevin Eilmes, a Yakima County deputy prosecutor, said his office would likely retry him based on a confession before his trial and other evidence.

The prosecutor also is considering an appeal to the state Supreme Court, he said.

The crucial DNA evidence came from skin cells left on strips of electrical tape used to cover the eyeholes of the Lone-Ranger-style mask placed on the woman.

At the time of the rape, DNA testing was not sophisticated enough to pick up such minute samples, according to the appeals court.

In 2005, at the urging of Bradford’s lawyers, the State Patrol crime lab tested the tape and excluded Bradford as a source of the DNA. The lab did not find a match in the state’s DNA databank.

Eilmes said that finding does not prove Bradford’s innocence but merely suggests someone else prepared the mask. “It doesn’t answer the question of who committed the rape,” he said.

Retrying Bradford, 34, is important to keep a requirement that he register as a sex offender, Eilmes said.

The appeals court’s ruling notes other problems with the case, including a dispute about whether Bradford was at work at the time and discrepancies between his confession — rendered after an eight-hour interrogation — and facts of the crime.

There are other problems with the conviction, McMurtrie said: The woman described her attacker’s 6-foot height, while Bradford is 5-foot-7. McMurtrie also said Bradford told police in his confession that no children were home during the rape, although the victim’s infant had screamed during the attack.

Since 1989, 206 people around the country have been exonerated by DNA testing, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based group that works to overturn wrongful convictions.

The group’s Northwest chapter, based at the University of Washington Law School, has won the freedom of 11 people, though none based solely on DNA until now.

Since Bradford’s release in 2005, he returned to Yakima and works for a crate-manufacturing company. He continues to register as a sex offender.

He still faces a $600,000 judgment owed to the woman and her husband, who sued Bradford in 1996.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com