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Wrongfully-Convicted Man Awarded $9 Million After Spending Almost 20 Years Behind Bars

By: Anthony Galloway

A wrongfully convicted man was awarded $9 million by a federal jury on Monday in a record civil rights verdict in Washington state.

Clyde Ray Spencer, a former police officer in Vancouver, Wash., spent nearly two decades behind bars after he was accused of sexually abusing his children. Spencer was convicted in 1985 and released from custody in 2004 when his sentence was commuted by then-Governor Gary Locke. He is now 66 years old.

Civil rights attorney Kathleen Zellner represented Spencer in his civil case. Zellner told NBC News that “although Spencer entered an Alford Plea,” where he did not admit to the act and asserted his innocence but admitted that the prosecution likely could have convinced a jury of his guilt, Zellner “was able to convince the jury the plea was induced by the fabricated evidence.”

The jury agreed that a detective who investigated Spencer’s case had “deliberately fabricated” false evidence and either “knew or should have known” Spencer was innocent of the crimes he was charged with.

“It is very reassuring that an American jury sent a clear message that no matter how old the violation is, 30 years in Spencer’s case, abuses of power by the police will not be tolerated,” Zellner said.

Zellner most recently represented 29-year-old Ryan Ferguson, who was released from state prison in Missouri in November after his conviction was overturned. Ferguson served nearly 10 years behind bars on murder and robbery charges. 

Halloween night, 2001. Sports editor Kent Heitholt is found dead in the parking lot of the Columbia, MO newspaper where he worked. The case is cold for two years, until someone steps forward with a confession. But even then, the mystery is far from over.

In Spencer’s case, the new prosecutor in Clark County, Wash., Tony Golik, who was not in office at the time of Spencer’s conviction, told The Columbian the verdict was “extremely troubling” and said his office will research other cases to see if they find cases similar to Spencer’s.

Jason Myles contributed to this report.