Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Jace Hambrick

Other Clark County, Washington exonerations
On February 17, 2017, 20-year-old Jace Hambrick spotted a message in the “casual encounters” section of Craigslist, an adult-only section of the online website. The message said, “jus gamer gurl sittin home on a sunny day-w4m, Been tired of all the rain. Sun is good, but this gurl is gamin today. U wanna chat hmu we can chat as long as im not lvling!”

Hambrick, who was an avid game player, asked about the game being played and the response was “ALIEN ISOLATION,” a game rated for ages 17+ (mature). Hambrick said he was 20 years old and when he asked the age of the messenger, the response he was given was 13. Hambrick asked, “Why did you post an ad in craigslist if you are 13? You mean 23?”

Those questions were not answered, instead, Hambrick was asked to switch from email to text messaging. When Hambrick asked for a photograph, he was sent a photograph of an adult woman wearing gaming headphones. They continued to text and eventually agreed to meet to have sex.

When Hambrick arrived at the address given, the adult in the photo answered the door. Hambrick was arrested.

Unbeknownst to Hambrick, he had been chatting with a member of the Vancouver Police Department who was working with the Washington State Patrol’s Missing and Exploited Children Task Force in an undercover operation called “Net Nanny.”

Hambrick denied he wanted to have sex with a 13-year-old girl and asserted that he believed he was meeting an adult woman based on the photograph and the fact that the posting was an adults-only section.

He was charged with attempted second-degree rape of a child and communication with a minor for immoral purposes.

In May 2018, Hambrick went to trial in Clark County Superior Court. The case was decided by the judge without a jury.

Detective Rob Givens testified that he was the person communicating with Hambrick. He said that “w4m” meant a woman looking for a man. The woman—“Julie”—whose photo was used in the communications was that of an undercover police officer named Heather Janisch who was about four years older than Hambrick.

Hambrick testified that he had no interest in interacting with anyone under the age of 18. He said that he never believed he was actually interacting with a 13-year old because the ad was posted on a website that required a person to be 18 to post ads and she was playing a game that was rated for people over 17 years old.

Hambrick also did not believe that he was interacting with a 13-year-old because of her language choices, that she was not a virgin, and she knew exact directions to her house. Hambrick further testified he could tell the person in the photo he received was not 13.

Hambrick also testified that he specifically asked the person he was interacting with to come to the door so he could verify that he was meeting a consenting adult and not a teenager. Hambrick stated that he believed the person who answered the door was over 20 years old. Hambrick further testified that if a 13-year-old had opened the door he would have turned around and left.

On May 22, 2018, Superior Court Judge Gregory Gonzales convicted Hambrick of both charges. “The Defendant testified that he was engaged in online role-playing and at all times believed he was communicating with an adult,” Gonzales said. “This testimony is not credible. The defendant clearly expressed by words and conduct that he intended to have sex with a 13-year-old.” Gonzales sentenced Hambrick to 18 months to life in prison to be followed by a requirement that he register as a sex offender for 10 years.

On January 6, 2020, Hambrick was released on parole.

In August 2020, Hambrick was featured in a New York Times magazine article: “Convicted of Sex Crimes, but With No Victims.” The article noted that since 2015, “nearly 300 men in cities and towns across Washington State have been arrested in online-predator stings, most of them run by the State Patrol and code-named Operation Net Nanny. The men range in age from 17 to 77, though about a quarter are 25 or younger. As many as two dozen have been rounded up in a single sting and charged with attempted rape of a child, as Jace Hambrick was, even though no actual children were involved. The emails and texts offering sex are written by undercover officers. The ‘girls’ in the photos are not 13. They are police officers, typically the youngest women on the force.”

The article noted that although the operation was designed to capture sexual predators, “most of the men arrested have no felony record.” Such was the case with Hambrick.

On September 15, 2020, the Washington Court of Appeals vacated Hambrick’s convictions and ordered a new trial. The court ruled that Hambrick’s right to a jury trial was violated because he never personally waived his right to a jury trial. The prosecution conceded that the waiver of a jury trial had been signed by Hambrick’s defense attorney, Steven Thayer, but was not signed by Hambrick.

Prior to a retrial, Hambrick’s new defense attorney, Charles Lane, filed a 44-page motion to dismiss the charges based on prosecutorial misconduct. The motion said that the prosecution had failed to disclose that the trial prosecutor was present during the sting operation. The motion said the prosecution had failed to disclose that the stings were underwritten with funds provided by Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), a private anti-child trafficking organization. The motion alleged that OUR used the successes of the stings to as a fund-raising tool.

The motion said that “extensive investigation and public document requests have been necessary to uncover the nature of the corrupt relationship between [Washington State Police] and OUR because the State has unlawfully withheld these documents.”

Two documents revealed that “prosecuting attorney Colin Hayes was a listed participant in the sting present at the command post during the operation that led to Mr. Hambrick’s arrest and that evidence destroyed in this case was never revealed to defense,” the motion said.

Hayes’s involvement in the sting made him a potential witness to the case and “potentially providing grounds for disqualification of the entire county prosecutor’s officer,” the motion said.

The police and OUR engaged in the program “to appeal to the public and donors about the number of arrests that were accomplished, acknowledging the specific contribution of OUR, stirring the emotions of their donor base by claiming to have saved numerous actual child victims and taking dangerous child predators off the street,” the motion said. “The purpose and effect of the campaign was to conduct a digital ‘perp walk’ for the benefit of [the police] and its partner OUR to satisfy their donors and encourage more donations.”

The crime “originated in the mind of law enforcement,” the motion said. “The crime was created by law enforcement.”

The motion was denied, and Hambrick went to trial a second time in September 2023. Lane was able to present “more details about how the operations were conducted and the fact that law enforcement was being intentionally vague in luring naive people.”

On September 8, 2023, the jury acquitted Hambrick.

Afterward, one juror, Rik Smoody, told The Columbian newspaper, “It was entirely credible that he was checking it out because she might’ve been for real. And in fact, there she was—she stood in front of him and opened the door—a 20-something woman.”

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 1/24/2024
Last Updated: 1/24/2024
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:Other Nonviolent Felony
Reported Crime Date:2017
Sentence:18 months to life
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No