At about 9 p.m. on February 26, 2003, 23-year-old Nacoel Olebar rang the doorbell at the home of her former boyfriend, 26-year-old Bryan Vogelbacher, in Auburn, Washington. Nacoel had broken off their relationship two weeks earlier because Vogelbacher had been physically abusive.
Vogelbacher refused to open the door and several men, perhaps as many as eight or nine, broke through the front door and began beating Vogelbacher. He said that he was pistol-whipped by Nacoel Olebar’s uncle, Edward Loney, and that others punched and kicked him until he managed to crawl into the closet of his bedroom.
Vogelbacher called police after everyone left. He reported that numerous items were stolen, including a computer monitor, a DVD player, $800 in cash, a gold necklace and other jewelry.
Two days later, Vogelbacher looked at a photographic lineup of Nacoel’s male relatives and friends. Although Vogelbacher said each of his attackers had a feather tattooed on their face, he selected Nacoel’s 19-year-old brother, Brandon Olebar, as one of his attackers, even though Olebar did not have a tattoo on his face. Vogelbacher also identified Loney as the man who pistol-whipped him and Nacoel as taking part in the attack.
Loney, Nacoel and Brandon Olebar were each charged with first-degree robbery and first-degree burglary. Nacoel’s case was severed when she was found incompetent to stand trial. Loney and Brandon Olebar went on trial together in King County Superior Court in the fall of 2003.
Vogelbacher identified Loney and Olebar as among his attackers and said Loney pistol-whipped him and demanded to know where his cash was. Vogelbacher said that after the attackers left, $800 in cash was missing.
A detective testified that an unfired .45-caliber bullet found in the kitchen of Vogelbacher’s residence was matched to a .45-caliber pistol that was in Loney’s pocket when he was arrested.
Olebar denied taking part in the attack and said he had spent the day with an aunt and uncle before going to his grandmother’s home prior to 10 p.m. Loney testified that he spent the evening at the home of his daughter and his daughter’s mother.
On November 3, 2003, the jury convicted Loney and Olebar of first-degree robbery and first-degree burglary. Loney was sentenced to 20 years in prison and Olebar was sentenced to 16½ years in prison. Nacoel later pled guilty and was sentenced to just over one year in prison. No one else was charged with participating in the attack.
After Olebar’s convictions were upheld on appeal, he asked for help from the Innocence Project Northwest at the University of Washington School of Law. By then Melissa Olebar, Brandon’s wife, had identified four people who took part in the attack. The Innocence Project Northwest located Nacoel who gave a detailed account of the attack, including the names of some of those involved.
Two law students, Nikki Carsley and Kathleen Kline, identified several attackers who were never prosecuted. Three of them signed sworn statements stating that they took part in the attack but that Brandon Olebar was not involved or even present.
Innocence Project Northwest attorney Fernanda Torres presented the new evidence to Mark Larson, Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office.
Larson conducted an independent investigation and filed a motion to vacate Olebar’s convictions. On December 20, 2013, the motion was granted, the prosecution dismissed the charges and Olebar was then released.
In September 2014, Olebar was awarded $496,712 in state compensation.
In February 2015, Mark Larson, the chief criminal deputy of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, who reviews all innocence claims for the office, wrote a personal account
of how Olebar's case was investigated and dismissed.
– Maurice Possley