Was Clarence Spivey wrongfully convicted of rape 40 years ago?

‘The truth has to come out’
By JAMES ROBINSON  |  May 11, 2012

GONE Exhibits withdrawn by the Attorney General’s offfice, a partial transcript is virtually all that remains from the trial. | >> READ the transcripts here <<


"To us, this looked like a wrongful conviction, followed by a cover up," says Gretchen Bennett, director of the New England Innocence Project (NEIP), sitting in a boardroom high up inside Boston law firm Goodwin Proctor's downtown offices.

Goodwin Proctor provides NEIP with both office space and significant financial support. In December 2000, Spivey began writing letters to the group. "I am reaching out with the hope of getting professional help experienced in the expertise of access to records and presenting facts," he wrote.

Spivey's claim to innocence fit the bill for NEIP, which hoped to use DNA testing to establish whether he was truly culpable for the crime.

But NEIP's experience investigating Spivey's case was fruitless, as evidenced by case notes supplied to the Phoenix. At each turn, there was little in the way of surviving documents and evidence. The physical evidence tested by the FBI had been sent back to the Providence Police Department and could not be located. Any records of tests done on the victim required the victim herself to release them. Months of calls to the FBI turned up nothing.

The University of Rhode Island lab, the State Forensics Lab, and the Department of Health held no information. The Providence Superior Court returned nothing — no transcripts of the trial could be found, no police reports could be located, and there were no surviving exhibits.

Betty Ann Waters, a local investigator whose successful quest to clear her brother's name was made into the 2010 movie Conviction, was leading NEIP's early search and remembered that no one was particularly pleased to be asked about this case. "From the very beginning, I just had this strange feeling that we were never going to find anything," she said.

When investigators located the 1975 court order removing the exhibits at the request of Attorney General Michaelson the case became even more confounding. "In all the cases we've worked on here, we've never seen anything like that," Bennett said.

Spivey has spent the last 40 years in jail, with an 11-month pause of freedom. His release date is set for 2026, shortly after he turns 73. He was transferred into medium security over a year ago. He has become part of Exorcism, a religious community group that advocated unsuccessfully in November for his parole. His mother has dementia and he hopes to get home before she dies.

Since returning as a parole violator 20 years ago, Spivey has been denied parole every two years. Casby Harrison, Spivey's attorney for the last 20 years, says that the parole process appears futile for his client. The powers that be inside the Department of Corrections appear to genuinely think that he presents a risk to society.

Spivey's continued insistence on his innocence does not help his case, Harrison added. He supplied the Phoenix with documented records of phone calls with both the parole board and the Department of Corrections where Spivey is referred to as a "smart-talker" and an "asshole."

When reached for comment, Dr. Kenneth Walker, the Rhode Island Parole Board chairman, said that Spivey's November 2011 parole was denied for several reasons: the severity of the crime, Spivey's reoffending in 1987, and correspondence from the victim's husband. In response to Harrison's claim, he said that he would not presume to know what the parole board would find when Spivey was up for parole again in 2013.

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