Uriah Courtney

County of Conviction:

Convicted of:





case details

Uriah Courtney was wrongly convicted of sexual assault after being misidentified by witnesses and the victim. DNA testing proved Uriah’s innocence and pointed to a 3rd party suspect.

On November 24, 2004, a man attacked a 16-year-old girl as she was walking along Buena Vista Road in Lemon Grove, California. She reported that before being attacked she noticed a man staring at her from an old truck with a fake wooden camper. Later, as she continued walking under the 94 Freeway, the man grabbed her from behind and told her not to scream. He lifted her skirt and tore her underwear. The girl fought back, hitting the man with her portable CD player and managing to break free. But the man caught up to her, threw her into some bushes, and sexually assaulted her again. During the assault, the girl saw a car on the street, managed to break free once more, and ran to the car where the driver let her in.

The girl called the police and turned over her clothes to detectives. She believed the man from the old truck was her attacker, describing him as a white man with facial hair, in his 20s, and about 5 feet 8 to 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighing around 150 to 160 pounds.

Initially, the police had no leads. They drove the girl around the area to see if she recognized anyone, but she could not. The police, the victim, and an eyewitness worked with a sketch artist to create a composite sketch of the attacker and the truck to be issued in a “Be on the Lookout” (BOLO) police alert, but there were not enough details to complete it. Later, someone reported seeing a similar truck, which belonged to Uriah Courtney’s stepfather. Uriah matched the general description given by the victim.

When the victim saw a picture of the truck, she said she was about 80% sure it was the same one she saw right before her attack. The police showed her Uriah’s photo in a six-pack lineup, and the victim said Uriah might be the person who attacked her, but she was not certain. Specifically stating, “Not sure, but the most similar is number 4.” However, she told officers she felt more sure about recognizing the truck than Uriah, saying she was about 60% confident in that identification. Another eyewitness also identified Uriah in the lineup. 

Police arrested Uriah in February of 2005 after the victim identified him in the lineup. Pre-trial DNA testing of the biological evidence was inconclusive at that time. Uriah went on trial in San Diego County Superior Court on charges of kidnapping, sexual assault and false imprisonment.

Even though the victim was not entirely sure in her initial lineup identifications, during the trial, the victim stated she was sure about both the truck and Uriah. 

Uriah’s boss and a coworker said he was working to tear down a U.S. Postal Service building when the attack happened. A postal worker testified that Uriah looked like one of the workers there that day. Another postal worker remembered being told that he was present and noted that Uriah did not miss work that week. The records also showed that Uriah was paid for working on the day of the attack.

Despite presenting an alibi, the jury found Uriah guilty, and the judge sentenced him to life in prison for kidnapping and sexual assault.

In 2010, attorneys Alissa Bjerkhoel (now a Judge) and Raquel Barilla, believed further DNA testing could shed light on the truth in Uriah’s case. In February 2012, the court granted a motion for DNA testing. In collaboration with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, new DNA testing on the victim’s clothing revealed a male profile that did not match Uriah. This profile matched a convicted felon who lived near the scene of the attack and resembled Uriah.

As a result, Uriah’s conviction was overturned on June 24, 2013, and he was released on May 6, 2013.

our work

related Cases