In 1984, the five-year-old daughter of Clyde “Ray” Spencer, a Vancouver, Washington police officer allegedly suggested that he had molested her.
The ensuing investigation lasted eight months and ultimately Clark County authorities charged Spencer, 37, with sexually abusing the girl, her nine-year-old brother, and Spencer’s five-year-old step-son.
In February, 1985, Spencer pled no contest (an Alford plea) to seven counts of first-degree statutory rape and four counts of complicity to statutory rape, arising from allegations that he made the children perform sex acts with each other as he watched. He was sentenced to two life prison terms, plus 14 years.
Spencer later said he entered the plea only after learning that his defense attorney had prepared no defense for the case. His subsequent appeals to set aside the plea were denied and he was denied parole five times because he refused to admit guilt and get sex offender treatment.
After about a decade in prison, Spencer hired Seattle attorney Peter Camiel, who, along with a private investigator, discovered that prosecutors had withheld medical exams showing that there was no physical evidence of abuse, even though the child’s mother contended they had been repeatedly raped. Also withheld was evidence that at the time, the children’s mother was having an affair with the detective supervising the investigation.
The discovery prompted Washington Governor Gary Locke to commute Spencer’s sentence in 2004, although Spencer was placed on supervision for three years.
Not long after, Spencer’s two natural children came forward to say they were never molested or raped by their father. Both of the children testified at a hearing in 2009 that the abuse never occurred. The boy testified that after being repeatedly and extensively questioned, he finally agreed to say he was abused so that the police would leave him alone. The girl testified that she doesn’t recall what she told police, but she did remember getting ice cream. The step-son refused to recant and contended he had been molested.
In October, 2009, based on the Brady violations and recantations, a court of appeals vacated the plea, saying, “The recantations that remained consistent through direct and cross-examination coupled with the significant irregularities in how the case was prosecuted…require that we grant Spencer’s petition and remand for withdrawal of his plea.” On September 29, 2010, Spencer withdrew his plea and at the same time, Clark County prosecutors dismissed the charges.
In June 2011, Spencer, who moved to Sacramento, California to live with the woman he married while in prison, filed a federal lawsuit against Clark County as well as police and prosecutors involved in the case. In February 2014, a jury awarded Spencer $9 million in damages.
– Maurice Possley