By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“She was the ringleader. She was in my face, and I was begging her not to kill me,” Linda LeBrane said of Sarah Pearce.
Pearce was freed Friday after 3rd District Court Judge Juneal Kerrick granted post-conviction relief and amended Pearce’s 2003 sentence to time served after a compromise deal between Canyon County, Idaho, prosecutors and attorneys with the Idaho Innocence Project.
“This has made me have to live through this all over again, and I’ve gone through six weeks of counseling at the prosecutor’s office to deal with this,” LeBrane said.
Pearce has argued that she never committed the crime and her incarceration was a case of mistaken identity, and she plans to devote her life to helping get innocent people out of jail, according to a story in the Idaho Statesman.
Pearce was one of four people convicted in the roadside kidnapping, beating and stabbing of LeBrane, who was left to die alongside her car after it was set on fire in the attack.
LeBrane was driving through Idaho on Interstate 84 in June 2000, headed from her home to her family cabin in Utah, when she was forced from the road.
Her assailants took her and her car to a secluded road west of Caldwell, where they hit her with a metal baseball bat, repeatedly stabbed her and slashed her throat, authorities said.
When her attackers left, LeBrane rolled away from the burning car and was rescued by passers-by who saw the flames.
“I lost use of my muscles from the 17 stab wounds and could no longer play the violin,” said LeBrane, who before the attack performed in an orchestra and has played sporadically since.
“I was unable to work and lost my job, lost the house and still have medical bills that I can’t pay.”
Since the attack, LeBrane said she went through months of medical recovery, two years of intense physical therapy and five years of psychiatric treatment, and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Goddard College in July 2011, has played violin in the Port Townsend Community Orchestra, is a founding member of the Rhododendron Festival’s Lawn Chair Drill Team and has written poetry.
LeBrane was notified of Pearce’s release in early February and was required to sign off on the action.
She only did so after it was clearly stated that Pearce must pay her $55,000 in restitution in a process that will be administered by the court.
LeBrane previously was promised restitution by one of the other attackers, Kenneth Wurdemann, who was released in early 2012.
When he failed to pay, she contacted prosecutors in two states that resulted in his being incarceration again, a process she refuses to repeat.
“The criminals never pay restitution because they know the victims will never come after them,” LeBrane said.
“But it shouldn’t be the victim’s responsibility to get restitution, and I only agreed to this as long as I would not have to be my own advocate.”
LeBrane said she once heard that Wurdemann, a Native American, would pay the restitution in a lump sum, but that did not occur.
Instead it arrived in small amounts, $16 a month, before stopping entirely.
She expects that Pearce’s payments will arrive in small amounts if they occur at all.
“Some people argue that she is poor and can’t afford to pay, but that’s not an excuse,” LeBrane said.
“Because of her, I lost $390,000 in income. I would have made $30,000 a year for the last 13 years.
“My mind knows this happened 14 years ago, but my body still feels the pain, especially when I try to play the violin, which meant so much to me.”
LeBrane said she admires the work of the Innocence Project in getting those wrongly accused out of jail, but Pearce is not one of those people.
“They received a huge grant to do this story and had tons of money to spend on TV time, but I can’t even get $50,000 to pay my bills,” she said.
“They should hang their heads in shame.”
While the trauma still exists, LeBrane does not fear Pearce directly due to a restraining order and a belief that Pearce will not come to Port Townsend.
“My community has surrounded me and protected me, so I am grateful for that,” she said.
“I was always a pacifist, but I got a gun and took the training.
“I feel safe because of that and also because I am surrounded by angels.”
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or email@example.com.