After a brief period of freedom, Cambria resident Ronald Cowan is back behind bars as SLO County prosecutors take a second run at convicting him of multiple charges of child molestation.
Cowan, 59, served three years of a 65-year prison sentence after a SLO County jury found him guilty of those charges at a 2014 trial. But a California appeals court overturned the verdict in March 2017 after it found that the SLO County prosecutor in the original case made misleading statements to the jury about the assumption of Cowan’s innocence during her closing arguments. Cowan was released from state prison on May 31, according to the California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation.
In the wake of Cowan’s successful appeal, the SLO County District Attorney’s Office confirmed that it re-filed all five felony child molestation charges against Cowan and plans to take him to trial once again. Cowan had been free on $100,000 bail, but prosecutors requested the amount be raised to $700,000 at a May 7 hearing. Judge Denise de Bellefeuille granted the increase and ordered that Cowan be remanded to the SLO County Jail until he could post bail.
During the hearing, Cowan’s defense attorney, Jeffrey Radding, argued against the bail increase. He noted that Cowan’s bail for the original trial was set at just $50,000, and intimated that his client was being punished for mounting a successful appeal.
“Now he’s paying a penalty … because of a wrongful conviction,” Radding said. “That’s not right.”
Cowan echoed similar sentiments in an interview with New Times shortly before his hearing.
“The whole thing’s just been a lynching and a witch hunt,” said Cowan, who maintained, as he did at his first trial, that he was innocent of the charges.
Still, the DA’s office appears to believe it has a solid case to re-try Cowan. Even the appellate court’s decision overturning his conviction noted that the evidence against him was “strong.” SLO County Prosecutor Rebecca Speer-Mathews said California’s crime victim’s rights law, also known as Marsy’s Law, required the request to increase bail.
“This is not retaliation for a conviction that was overturned,” said Speer-Matthews, who was not the prosecutor for Cowan’s original trial.
In his interview, Cowan expressed concern about going back into jail. During his three years in prison, Cowan said he was attacked and injured by other inmates who were aware of the nature of his conviction. Even during the short stint out of custody, Cowan indicated that the negative impact of the original trial and its verdict were apparent when he was out in public.
“They are all in shock seeing me,” he said. “They thought I went away. People know I have this nasty reputation.”