'Dateline NBC' on Friday to tell story of Port Townsend woman surviving violent ordeal
Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Linda LeBrane spends time every day on Indian Point Beach writing in a journal that she hopes will evolve into a memoir.
By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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LeBrane was driving through Idaho on Interstate 84 in June 2000, headed from her home to her family cabin in Utah, when she was forced from the road.
Her assailants took her and her car to a secluded road west of Caldwell, Idaho, where they hit her with a metal baseball bat, repeatedly stabbed her, slashed her throat and set her car aflame, authorities said.
“I don't know what they are going to say,” LeBrane, 67, said of the “Dateline” show Thursday.
“They won't give me a preview, and they won't give me tapes of my interview.
“Everyone has part of my story but me. So I have no control.”
The two-hour show will be broadcast locally at 8 p.m. on KING-TV and will be available after broadcast at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-Dateline and the on-demand component on cable systems.
The show is expected to deal with the crime, punishment and aftermath of the assault, including the release of Sarah Pearce, described by LeBrane as the ringleader of the attack, after she served 11 years in an Idaho prison.
The story was ready to go last year but was postponed when the Idaho Innocence Project took Pearce's case and the network decided to wait for the resolution before airing the story, according to Keith Morrison, the correspondent who has worked on the story from the beginning.
LeBrane plans to watch the show at a friend's house. She expects the broadcast will be emotional, “and I don't want to be alone.”
Since the attack, she has been through months of medical recovery, two years of intense physical therapy and five years of psychiatric treatment, and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
The wounds will never heal, she said.
When she arrived at a Peninsula Daily News office for an interview, she requested that her photograph be taken right away “because once I start telling the story, I'll start crying, and it will ruin my makeup.”
As predicted, LeBrane started to cry when she spoke about her appearance in an Idaho courtroom last spring during the parole hearing for Pearce.
“In my victim impact statement, the very last thing I said: 'I have to forgive you, Sarah Pearce,'” LeBrane said.
“'Because if I don't, I will remain your victim forever, and you will never leave me in the beet field again.'”
After the attack, LeBrane worked with a police artist who developed four composites of her attackers.
When the four were eventually arrested, the drawings were so accurate “that it was like I had taken a photograph,” LeBrane said.
Two of the assailants are serving life sentences in Idaho State Prison, while a third is in the same location on a parole violation after he failed to maintain his restitution schedule.
Pearce was sentenced to time served after a compromise deal between Canyon County, Idaho; prosecutors; and attorneys with the Idaho Innocence Project.
Bryan Taylor, Canyon County prosecutor, said the deal confirmed Pearce's guilt, “which has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt and to the satisfaction of a jury of her peers.”
Pearce said she never committed the crime and that her incarceration was a case of mistaken identity, according to the Idaho Statesman.
LeBrane has no doubt that Pearce was involved.
“She was this close to me, closer than I am to you,” she said, leaning forward.
“The dome light was on, and she was in my face. She was the ringleader and was saying, 'Kill her now, kill her now,'” LeBrane said.
“I appealed to her because she was young and pretty and was with these sleazy-looking guys. I appealed to her as a woman and as a person, and she was vicious,” LeBrane said.
After the attack, LeBrane was left underneath her car. She said she was saved by her faith.
“I had made a pillow of dirt from freshly furrowed earth and prepared to die,” she said.
“I was totally surrounded by angels, and my heavenly father lifted me in his arms, and it was the most peaceful feeling.”
Just as she was about to let go, LeBrane heard voices.
After determining somehow they were not her assailants, she called out and was rescued by two teenage boys who were coming home after a night playing video games and had seen the fire from the road.
Dateline first contacted LeBrane nearly two years ago. She wasn't interested in reliving something she's never forgotten, but the research done by the producer convinced her otherwise.
“He said that he knew I had a master's degree in poetry and said that I could read some of it on the air,” she said.
“I said, 'What a great opportunity, to have a poetry reading on NBC.'”
LeBrane read several poems for the camera but doesn't expect them to get much air time.
“Her poetry is pretty good, and it deals with the experience she has gone through,” Morrison said.
“We used snippets of them when she was telling her experiences. It helped us tell the story more effectively.”
Morrison visited Port Townsend twice, first in January 2013 and again in May for an interview that centered around Pearce's release.
LeBrane isn't pleased that Dateline has chosen to feature Pearce on what she thinks could be an equal basis.
“They were telling me there were two sides to every story,” LeBrane said. “And I said, 'Wow, there weren't two sides between me and four people in a beet field.'”
Said Morrison: “We had no choice but to wait until this process completed. You can't ignore the rest of the story.
“This is a real window into the nature of violence and what it does to our lives,” Morrison said of the story.
“Surviving a violent attack like Linda did is hard work, and I want people to see how difficult that is.
“These things don't just go away.”
LeBrane spends time each day writing in her journal and is developing the story in what she hopes will become a published book.
In the meantime, the TV show as well as the last trial appearance has become a turning point.
“All the rage, the revenge and the hate and bitterness — when I walked out of the courtroom, it was gone,” LeBrane said.
“I've gone as far to say that I hope [Pearce] makes it.
“She has the opportunity to change her life, but it's out of my body now.”
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: July 10. 2014 7:39PM