black labrador
Former French President Francois Mitterrand's black labrador "Baltic" Reuters/Mousse Mousse

A US man’s freedom has been spared after the discovery of a Labrador that had supposedly been killed. Joshua Horner, 42, was convicted last year of sexually assaulting his daughter, but when the daughter’s pet dog was discovered to be alive, he was given a new lease on life.

The plumber from Oregon was convicted in April 2017 of sexually assault a minor by a jury and was sentenced to 50 years in jail. The minor was his daughter, who claimed he frightened her into silence by killing her black lab. The daughter had testified during the trial, saying her father threatened to harm her animals if she told the police. Horner, she said, shot the black lab in front of her to frighten her into silence.

But the dog was found by the Oregon Innocence Project alive and well with new owners. The non-profit legal organisation had since agreed to review Horner’s case. It tracked down the Labrador to the town of Gearhart.

Horner had insisted that she was not guilty. He said the dog must be found to prove his innocence and show that his daughter was a liar.

The district attorney’s office filed a motion on Monday to dismiss the case, noting that the daughter had refused to talk to investigators since the dog was found alive.

“While I cannot say with certainty that Mr Horner did not sexually abuse the named victim, I can say I am not convinced by a preponderance of the evidence that is now available that he did, and I am certainly not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt,” district attorney John Hummel said in a statement (via AFP).

Horner was freed from prison in August. He was awaiting a new trial after an appeals court had overturned his conviction. He told reporters outside the courthouse that he and his wife were now ready to pick up the pieces of their lives.