Was Clarence Spivey wrongfully convicted of rape 40 years ago?

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

PERSONA NON GRATA A spectator yelled, “Let’s get him!,” as reported in The Evening Bulletin on January 17, 1972.


A black man accused of raping a young white girl in the early 1970s was in a precarious position.

At Spivey's arraignment a crowd of about 50 friends and relatives of the victim packed the courtroom, according to media reports. During proceedings several members of the crowd stood up, and one yelled, "Let's get him! Let's get him!"

Spivey was indicted on two charges of assault with a dangerous weapon, kidnapping, and rape. He rejected several plea bargains, some for as few as 15 years, he said.

The trial began October 20, nine months after the incident. William Reilly, a reputable public defender, was placed in charge of Spivey's defense. The jury had an average age of nearly 45. The victim, a "slender, dark-haired woman" according to reporters, was the first on the stand and dominated the first day of the trial.

Nineteen years old at the time of her testimony, she received a favorable audience. Reilly initially sought to exclude her identification of Spivey based on the fact that she had initially caught only sideways looks at the man who abducted her, and that there were no lights on in the house she was taken to.

But Judge Eugene Gallant ruled this identification admissible and openly praised the young woman's integrity, calling her an intelligent person trying to recall her experiences honestly.

This positive identification by the victim, and subsequent positive identifications by the men who came to her aid hung heavily on Spivey. His defense presented a full set of alibis, but they held no sway.

According to his testimony, Spivey had spent the afternoon at a friend's house with his cousin, Therman Upchurch, a Vietnam War veteran. At 6:30 pm they'd ventured out to buy liquor and returned to the same dwelling.

At 7:25 pm, Spivey left for a haircut at Myles' Barber Shop before heading to his home, which he shared with his mother and her partner, and his brother, sister, and nephew. He didn't stay long, and headed off before 8 pm to a drop-in center on Prairie Avenue to see about a job. The center was near the vacant apartment on Willard Avenue. He said he was wearing psychedelic red, white, and blue pants — quite different from those of the victim's attacker — but took a pair of his brother Melvin's green pants with him in case he needed them for respectability.

Returning from the drop-in center to his home, he said, two officers, who knew him by name from juvenile offenses, called out to him from a police car in a church parking lot. He walked on, but was assaulted and detained moments later.

Spivey's cousin, barber, and mother testified to this story at trial. It pitted the word of the white eyewitnesses against that of the black alibis. And it was damaging that two key witnesses for the defense were related to Spivey.

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