Rocky Mountain Innocence Center clears name of man wrongfully convicted of aggravated sexual assault

The Rocky Mountain Innocence Center (RMIC)  has cleared the name of a man wrongfully convicted of aggravated sexual assault more than two decades ago.

Utah Third District Court Judge Royal I. Hansen signed an order on Sept. 10 exonerating Christopher Wickham, who spent 15 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Led by University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Jensie Anderson,  and adjunct professor Jennifer Springer, the RMIC began investigating Wickham’s innocence claim five years ago.

Wickham was convicted of two counts of aggravated sexual assault in 1997 and sentenced to two consecutive sentences of 10 years to life in the Utah State Penitentiary.  He maintained his innocence from the beginning, claiming that he had an unassailable alibi.  His trial attorney, however, refused to investigate the alibi claiming that it was irrelevant because the complainant did not specify what time she was sexually assaulted, said Anderson.

From left to right: Blair Hodson, Jennifer Springer, Christopher Wickham, Lisa Wickham, Josie Hall and Jensie Anderson

In 2011, Wickham was paroled and in 2013 his sentence was commuted to two counts of unlawful sexual contact with a minor 16-17 years old.  His name remained on the sex offender registry, however, Anderson said, which hindered his ability to find meaningful work due to his conviction.

RMIC became involved in the case in 2014 and filed a Petition for a Determination of Factual Innocence in July of 2018.  Attorneys were able to show that the complainant reported to police that she was sexually assaulted at 2:00 a.m. and that, at the same time, Wickham was being treated for injuries sustained in a car accident at a hospital emergency room. Wickham’s alibi was supported by an affidavit from the driver of the car who was with Wickham from midnight until he returned from the hospital at 6:00 a.m.

RMIC obtained affidavits from two people who were with Wickham from the time of the accident until he left for the hospital and then were in the same home with the complainant until Wickham returned from the hospital.  The actual perpetrator admitted that he had sex with the complainant on the night in question.  Based upon the large amount of evidence gathered by RMIC, the state began an investigation in April and ultimately agreed to all relief requested by Wickham.

“We are absolutely thrilled with the result – it is only the third time the state has stipulated to innocence in RMIC’s 20-year history,” said Anderson.

“We want to thank all of the clinical students and volunteers who worked diligently on the case as well as our cooperating counsel, Lauren Shurman and David Jordan, from the Salt Lake City office of Stoel Rives LLP.  Importantly, attorney Roger Scowcroft began working on Mr. Wickham’s case soon after his conviction and advocated for Mr. Wickham’s parole, the commutation of his original sentence, and he is the person who brought the case to RMIC.  It takes a village,” she added.

The RMIC is a nonprofit organization that partners with the College of Law to match students with cases that could potentially prove the innocence of the wrongfully convicted. Students receive not only academic credit but also valuable and unparalleled hands-on legal experience. Once they have completed an investigation and a case is ready for litigation, the center recruits local attorneys to help bring the case to court. Several College of Law students worked on Wickham’s case over the years.

Read more about RMIC here.