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Mark Cleary

Other Michigan No Crime Cases
In 1986, Mark Cleary and his girlfriend, Susan, who had two daughters together, split up and Susan and the girls moved out of their trailer in Macomb Township, Michigan.

Although they were separated and Susan had married, she allowed the girls to visit Cleary several times at his home. However, she stopped the visitation after the girls, ages four and six, expressed hostility towards her that she attributed to their visits with Cleary.

In January 1987, Cleary’s youngest daughter, by then age four, caught her older sister, by then age seven, with a four-year-old boy under a bed, touching each other. Susan asked the seven-year-old where she had learned to do that and spanked her until the girl said that Cleary had done the same things to her on multiple occasions. “Daddy does it all the time,” the girl said.

Susan filed a police report with the Macomb County sheriff’s office. Although there was no physical evidence of sexual abuse, the girl’s statements became more specific and graphic as time passed and she underwent several interviews with child social workers. In one interview she said that Cleary raped her and threatened to kill Susan if she told what happened.

In April 1987, Cleary was charged with first-degree sexual conduct. He agreed to take two separate polygraph examinations. Police said the first was inconclusive and that he failed the second.

In January 1989, Cleary went on trial in Macomb County Circuit Court. Under questioning by the prosecution, the girl, by then age 9, testified that Cleary “touched me in the wrong places” as many as eight different times. Social workers testified that the girl was suffering nightmares and anxiety as a result of the sexual abuse. One of the social workers conceded that she was surprised by the girl’s knowledge—that she knew the word “semen” and how to spell it.

Susan testified about her discovery of the girl under the bed and the girl’s accusations against Cleary. She denied during cross-examination that she had planted the ideas in her daughter’s mind.

Cleary testified in his own defense and denied ever touching his daughter improperly.

During closing argument, Macomb County Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Beard said, “These are details that one would not expect of a young child unless she actually had been there and experienced this type of behavior…We have no reason to believe that (the girl) is telling anything other than the truth.”

Ronald Marsh, Cleary’s defense attorney, argued that the girl had been programmed by her mother and grandmother to falsely accuse Cleary. Marsh contended that Susan had talked to the girl almost every day for months about the charges and engaged in mock testimony sessions to prepare her for the trial.

After a four-day trial, the jury convicted Cleary of first-degree sexual assault. He was sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison.

As Cleary lost his appeals, the girl eloped at age 15 and moved to Tennessee where she and her boyfriend had two children. Subsequently, the family moved back to Michigan. In 1997, she confided to her mother-in-law that she had lied, and that her father had not raped her.

The girl signed a sworn statement saying that she had never been molested, that she had lied during the investigation, and that her mother had rehearsed with her the statements she made to the police and in court. She said she got some of the details from her mother and some details from pornographic magazines that she found in the home.

It was not until 2004 and after the girl recanted multiple times that Macomb County Circuit Court Judge James Biernat Sr. finally granted Cleary a new trial. The judge pointed out that the girl was the only witness and there was no physical evidence of sexual abuse. Judge Biernat noted that Cleary and the girl's mother were locked in a bitter battle over visitation rights and that the girl might have been interviewed by the social workers in such a way that some of the false allegations were planted in her mind.

Cleary was released on bond pending a new trial. In February 2005, the prosecution dismissed the charge against him. Cleary later field a lawsuit seeking damages for his wrongful conviction, but the case was dismissed. He was awarded $600,000 in state compensation in 2018.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 10/2/2020
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1986
Sentence:20 to 30 years
Age at the date of reported crime:27
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No