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Exonerated Father Awarded $9M after 20 Years on False Sex Abuse Charge

Clyde Spencer, center, and his children, Kathryn Tetz and Matthew Spencer, who testified in defense of their father.

A father who spent 20 years in prison based on sex abuse evidence fabricated by two former Clark County, WA, sheriff's detectives was awarded $9 million by a federal court jury that ruled that the authorities violated his constitutional right to due process.

The jury verdict in the civil rights case was the latest in a series of exonerations for former Vancouver, WA, policeman Clyde Ray Spencer. He had been sentenced in 1985 to two life terms plus 14 years on false charges that he sexually abused his daughter Katie Spencer Tetz, then age 5, son Matt Spencer, then age 9, and stepson Matt Hansen, then age 5. The Governor commuted Spencer's sentence in 2004, and his conviction was subsequently thrown out.

Sex and ambition

"This case is so incredibly simple," attorney Kathleen Zellner told the jury during opening statements. "It has to do with the deliberate fabrication of evidence" by former sheriff's detective Sharon Krause and her boss, former detective sergeant Michael Davidson. Krauss and Davidson were both held liable. "The motivation was sex and ambition." Zellner, of Downers Grove, IL, is a member of the National Trial Lawyers.

Spencer asserted that the false evidence was a moving force in his entering an "Alford" or no contest plea to the charges. It is treated as a guilty plea, but maintains a person's innocence while acknowledging that a jury could find him guilty. While in prison Spencer wrote letters saying he was not guilty of molesting his children and stepson.

After 13 days of testimony in court in Tacoma, WA, from 25 witnesses -- several key factors led to the on February 3 jury verdict:

  • Spencer's wife, who called policed about the abuse claims, was secretly having an affair with Sgt. Davidson, who led the investigation of Spencer. This was not revealed until after Spencer was in prison.
  • Spencer's natural children Matt Spencer and Katie Tetz testified that they were never abused.
  • The stepson maintained that we was abused. However, he has a long criminal record for crimes including burglary and forgery. The authorities reduced his sentence in exchange for his testimony against Spencer.
  • The detectives concealed medical exams showing that Spencer's son and daughter were not abused.
  • They also fabricated polygraph test results to make it look as if Spencer was lying when questioned about the abuse claims.
  • Deputy prosecutor James Peters made a video showing that he coaxed Spencer's daughter to say her father abused her. The video, which undermines the prosecution's case, was not found until 2009 in Det. Krause's garage.
  • Det. Krause held unorthodox meetings with the Spencer children, interviewing them in unrecorded sessions, buying them gifts and candy. She told the children their father was "sick" and that they they could heal him by accusing him of sexual crimes.
  • Attorney Zellner charged that Det. Krause was motivated by advancing her career, and that after she started working in the field the conviction rate in child abuse cases rose by 800%. She had been a hotel clerk and met police officers who came to the hotel bar. She joined the Clark County Sheriff's Department and became a detective investigating child sex abuse, even though she had no training in the subject area.

"Justice was served, even though it took 30 years," Zellner said. "We were able to prove they framed him. We've proven the evidence was fabricated. And, after 30 years, that's remarkable. Justice is alive and well in Washington."

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