For me, it's not letting the system control my emotions. With that in mind, I just needed to move on with my life. I couldn't be bitter. I can't be. —Brandon Redtailhawk Olebar
SEATTLE — A Seattle man who was wrongfully imprisoned for a decade was compensated nearly $500,000 on Friday.
King County Superior Court Judge Laura Middaugh signed the order awarding the money to Brandon Redtailhawk Olebar, closing another chapter of his exoneration.
Olebar, 31, was imprisoned after a group of people broke into the home of his sister's boyfriend in 2003, pistol-whipped the man and left him unconscious.
The victim said as many as eight attackers beat him for more than 10 minutes, and he recognized Olebar's sister as one of them. He told police the attackers had "feather" facial tattoos. The victim later identified a photo of Olebar.
Despite the fact that he did not have a facial tattoo and had an alibi, Olebar was charged with burglary and robbery.
His conviction was based solely on witness testimony.
"The thought of spending 10 years in prison, 10 years in prison at a very young age, for a crime you didn't commit is unfathomable," said Todd Maybrown, the attorney representing Olebar in court Friday. "For many people, they would be broken. But for Mr. Olebar, he's the kindest, most peaceful person you can imagine."
Olebar spent 3,626 days — virtually all of his twenties — in prison.
"For me, it's not letting the system control my emotions," he said after the hearing. "With that in mind, I just needed to move on with my life. I couldn't be bitter. I can't be."
Olebar's compensation of $496,712 stems from a new law approved last year that gives wrongfully imprisoned people $50,000 per year spent behind bars. His share is tax-free.
"The state can never truly make up for the suffering they experience, but hopefully this compensation can help Brandon and his family, and others, move forward," said Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, the law's sponsor. "I'm so proud."
Before the measure was approved, lawsuits were the only option for people seeking compensation for wrongful imprisonment. But they were required to sue on some basis other than the fact that they were wrongfully convicted, such as police or prosecutorial misconduct.
Olebar's exoneration began with his wife approaching the Innocence Project Northwest, which is based at the University of Washington Law School.
Two students from the project pulled together evidence that Olebar was not among the people who broke into the home of his sister's boyfriend and beat him unconscious. The students, Nikki Carsley and Kathleen Kline, tracked down and interviewed three of the assailants, who signed sworn statements admitting their involvement and denying that Olebar was present during the attack.
The students and attorneys working with the Innocence Project approached the King County prosecutor's office, which then reviewed their evidence and moved to vacate Olebar's conviction. He was released in December.
The small crowd applauded as Friday's hearing ended. Olebar was accompanied by his wife, Mely, and his new baby girl, Creation Redmoonhawk Olebar.
"We've wanted a family for so long," Mely Olebar said. "We're finally starting our family."