Innocent Small-Town Oregon Woman Freed From 116 Year Sentence For Non-existent Crimes
by Hans Sherrer
Justice Denied Magazine, Vol. 2, Issue 9
Pamela Sue Reser, wrongly convicted in 1999 of raping her four small children and sentenced to 116 years in prison, was released on May 31, 2002 when an investigation by the Oregon State Police uncovered that the crimes she was convicted of hadn't occurred.
On January 9, 1999 Pamela Sue Reser of McMinnville, Oregon had her life turned upside down in the most horrific way imaginable. She was the 33 years old single mother of three sons and a daughter, all less than eight years old, when she was arrested on the accusation of raping her children.
Protesting her innocence, Pamela testified on her behalf at her five-day trial in 1999 that the allegations she forced her children to have sex with her, each other and her boyfriends was pure fantasy. Pamela suggested the children had been influenced to make up their stories by their foster mother. There was no physical evidence of any kind supporting that any of the alleged events had occurred, and the sole evidence against Pamela was the testimony of her young children. Pamela was nevertheless convicted of seventeen counts of first-degree rape, eight counts of sodomy and four counts of first-degree sexual abuse. Remarkably, none of the men allegedly involved in the alleged rapes was prosecuted.
After her conviction Pamela told her lawyer, “Eventually, my children will talk about this and the truth will come out.”
Resolutely affirming her innocence at her sentencing, the judge was unmoved and issued her the spirit crushing sentence of 116 years in prison.
Labeled as a heinous sexual predator and buried in the depths of the Oregon state prison system for what was effectively a life sentence, Pamela made a simple plea for help on an Internet website for women prisoners. On her Ladies Behind Bars webpage Pamela wrote:
“Lady in Need: Imagine being convicted of a crime you didn't commit, who would be in your corner?”
Picture of Pamela Sue Reser as she appeared on her Internet webpage asking for help.
The break Pamela needed to have her innocence proved came as rapidly and unexpectedly as the bewildering accusations and prosecution that put her in prison for life. In May of 2002, it came to light during an unrelated investigation that Pamela's children had recanted their testimony against their mother. Oregon State Police detectives were called in to investigate. After interviewing the children and other witnesses involved in the case, the OSP detectives verified that Pamela's four children admitted they made up the alleged abuse she was convicted of. A polygraph test of one of the children confirmed to the investigators the recantations were real.
On Wednesday, May 29th Pamela was appointed a lawyer to represent her. Given the weight of evidence Pamela Reser had been wrongly convicted of non-existent crimes, just two days later, on May 31, 2002, Yamhill County Circuit Judge John Hitchcock granted a motion for a new trial and ordered her immediate release from custody. Judge Hitchcock was the same judge who had presided over her trial and sentenced her to a lifetime entombed in prison.
At the time her release was ordered, a hearing on Pamela's retrial was scheduled for July 1, 2002. The Yamhill County prosecutor, however, indicated that since her conviction was solely based on the testimony of her children, no retrial could occur given the children's admissions no crimes had occurred. Remarkably, in the face of having prosecuted and been responsible for the imprisonment of an innocent Pamela Reser, the prosecutor also said: “It was one of the stronger cases I prosecuted. She denied all along the facts and circumstances.” If the prosecution of an innocent woman who unwaveringly asserted her innocence was one of the prosecutor’s stronger cases, then there is little doubt he has prosecuted numerous other innocent men and women who may continue to languish in Oregon’s prison system.
Pamela Sue Reser was quietly let out the back door of the Yamhill County Jail in McMinnville, Oregon an hour and a half after her release was ordered. It was where her nightmare had begun more than three years before, and the prison issued release clothing she was wearing were a sign of the ordeal she had endured. Waiting for Pamela were her mother and four friends. As she saw them she exclaimed: “I can't believe I'm out! My God! My God!”
Picture of Pamela Sue Reser as she was greeted by her mother and friends when released.
Her mother, Millie Reser, is angry at the ordeal her daughter was made to endure: “It was a misjustice. They need to know what happened.”
What happened is that Pamela's children were apparently upset at their mom, and she readily admits to have been a “bad mommy.” That personal self assessment however, may be as much due to her having had more than three years in prison to think about why her children would make up fantastic stories about her, as it may be rooted in the reality of possible deficiencies in her parenting skills.
After kissing a flowering bush, Pamela said as she was leaving the jail parking lot, “I'm so overwhelmed. I've got to take it slow.”
Pamela's lonely and improbable path to being exonerated is reflected by searching on Google's Internet search service for websites listing “Pamela Reser.” A single reference to Pamela is generated. That lone reference on Google is for the tenuous lifeline between Pamela and the outside world created by her pen pal webpage, and it says simply: “Pamela Reser – Seeking help and friends in a wrongful conviction.”
Source: “Wrongly jailed mom freed,” Matthew D. LaPlante (staff), McMinnville News McMinnville, OR, June 1, 2002.
“Reser not the first to face false accusations,” David Bates (staff), McMinnville NewsRegister, McMinnville, OR, June 1, 2002.
Note by Hans Sherrer:
One only has to spend a few minutes glancing through the website that Pamela Reser had her webpage on, Ladies Behind Bars, to find other women who claim they were wrongly convicted. Just like Pamela Reser, some or perhaps all of those women are innocent of the crimes they were convicted of. It would mean a lot to any one of those women to send a colorful postcard of a nature scene and write some encouraging words. I suggest sending a postcard, because colorful things of beauty taken for granted by people on the outside are sorely missing in the drab world of a women or mens prison. The Ladies Behind Bars website is at: http://4lbb.com/browse.htm . There are a number of other websites listing women prisoners that can be found doing an Internet search.
Special recognition is given to radio talk show host Mary Starrett for bringing the details of Pamela Sue Reser's case to the public’s attention during her program on June 3, 2002. Mary Starrett's program is on 800 am in Portland, Oregon from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. West Coast time, Monday through Friday.