Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Charles Lee Clark

On November 23, 1937, three men held up a clothing store in Hamtramck, Michigan. The owner, Benjamin Stefanczyk, and his daughter, Jennie Stefanczyk, who was 21 years old, were present in the store. When Benjamin Stefanczyk attempted to stop the robbery, he was shot and killed. Jennie, who tried to help her father, was hit on the head with a revolver.
 
Four black men, including Charles Lee Clark, were arrested and charged with felony murder. The other men charged were Jack Smith, Leroy Reynolds, and Garland George. One of the defendants accused Clark of killing Benjamin Stefanczyk, but he recanted the accusation at trial. Jennie Stefanczyk testified that Clark was the man who shot her father. Despite the testimony of his landlady, who insisted that Clark was at home at the time of the holdup, Clark was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. His conviction rested entirely on the testimony of Jennie Stefanczyk.
 
Clark spent the next 30 years in Jackson Prison. He was consistent in his claim that he was innocent of the crime. Because he was an exemplary prisoner, he was offered parole by the prison authorities and later offered a pardon and commutation of sentence. Each time, he refused, explaining that acceptance would be an implicit admission of guilt. “My desire and intention,” he wrote to the parole board, “is to walk out of here as a truly free man, as my Creator made me.”
 
Finally, in 1968, Clark’s case was assigned to the Legal Aid & Defenders Association of Detroit.
While researching the early transcripts, the attorneys discovered that Jennie Stefanczyk had originally been unable to identify Clark as the man who killed her father. They located Stefanczyk in Dearborn, Michigan, where she lived, now the mother of grown children, and asked her about her identification of Clark. Her testimony, she explained, resulted from the assurance of a detective during lineup that “that’s the man who shot your father” rather than her recollection.
 
Clark was awarded a new trial, at which it was established that he had “spent 30 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.” The case was dismissed on the motion of the prosecutor.
 
Released from prison, Clark returned to Detroit where he had lived until his arrest. He was unable to find a job because of his age and was forced to accept welfare. State Senator Coleman Young, aware of Clark’s plight, sponsored legislation to compensate Clark, and in 1972, Governor William G. Milliken presented a $10,000 check to the 72-year-old Clark. Arriving late for the presentation, the Governor apologized to Clark. “You’ve been waiting long enough. This check is just a token. There’s no way we can ever repay you for 30 years of your life.”
 
- Dolores Kennedy
State:MI
County:Wayne
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1937
Convicted:1938
Exonerated:1968
Sentence:Life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:39
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct