In 1982, Richard Smart’s 15-year-old stepdaughter accused him of raping her multiple times. She claimed the rapes occurred on three separate occasions in 1981 and 1982.
On October 13, 1983, 34-year-old Smart was convicted on three counts of rape by a jury in Oakland County, Michigan, and sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison. The trial took place in the Oakland County Circuit Court before Judge Fred Mester.
Smart’s wife, the mother of the victim, devoted herself to proving that Smart was innocent. In 1985, Detective James Atkinson of the Wixom Police Department decided to re-open the case. Atkinson was the original detective, and while he said tried to build a solid case at the time of the trial, he also said he felt there had been a lack of information.
The re-investigation led Atkinson to new witnesses, whom he had not previously been able to interview and whose testimony cast doubt on the victim’s reliability. Some of the new evidence had been previously withheld by the state Department of Social Services.
Among the new witnesses was the victim’s ex-boyfriend, Ken Feeny, who was with her on some of the evenings that the victim said the rapes had possibly occurred. Feeny stated that the victim did not have the injuries she claimed to have from being raped by Smart. According to Feeny, the victim had asked him to falsely testify at Smart’s trial that he had seen Smart assaulting her.
On January 29, 1988, Judge Mester, the original trial judge, ordered a new trial for Smart, finding that Smart could have been found not guilty if the new evidence had been available at his trial. The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the order for a new trial, and April 18, 1988 was set as the trial date. But prior to the trial’s start, the victim, who now lived in South Carolina, told the prosecutor that she refused to testify.
Judge Mester dismissed the charges against Smart on March 25, 1988.
- Meghan Barrett Cousino
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.