By Kathy Marshack
The Columbian/Zachary Kaufman
In February 2014 a federal court awarded Ray Spencer $9million in a wrongful prosecution lawsuit (although he has yet to collect the money). It had taken him thirty years to get this verdict. In 2004 after serving 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit, Washington’s then Governor Gary Locke commuted his sentence to time served, when it was clear he had been framed. But the commutation was only the beginning of an incredible fight to win his life back.
Over the next ten years after leaving prison, Ray engaged in one legal battle after another, starting with exoneration. Even though he was not guilty of the crimes, the Clark County Prosecutor’s office refused to cooperate and would not agree to exonerate him. Clark County lost this battle in the lower court; they lost at appeal; and they eventually insisted on taking the case to the state Supreme Court, where they lost again. Why pursue Spencer with such a vengeance? Obviously they had something to hide, which will be explained later.
I first learned about Clyde Ray Spencer in July 2009 when I sat in a Washington State Appellate Courtroom, awaiting the oral arguments for my own appeal (a civil case involving a long history of my own wrongful prosecution by corrupt officials in Vancouver WA). My case had been delayed thirty minutes for an emergency, which my attorney Dan Lorenz found surprising. Normally the Appellate Court schedule is very tight and arranged months in advance. I decided to sit in the courtroom and listen to the proceedings for the appeal regarding Clyde Ray Spencer, but I expected to find the arguments the usual dry stuff of legal pleadings and memos, etc. Instead I learned the incredible story of Spencer’s fight for his right to be a free man.
Unbelievably I listened as the Clark County attorney made the argument that Ray didn’t need to be exonerated because he was free from prison through the governor’s order of commutation. Ray had been convicted of several counts of child sexual abuse with his own children and a stepson. The acts were considered so violent and abhorrent that Judge Tom Lodge originally sentenced Spencer to two life terms, plus 14 years. No doubt the severity of the sentence was also due to the fact that Ray was a police officer. But he was innocent of these crimes. Not only had Ray’s children, now grown, come to his defense, but it was proven that detectives had not only withheld evidence at trial that would have cleared him . . .but they actually fabricated evidence! Now Clark County wanted to withhold exoneration? They wanted to keep Spencer in limbo as a registered sex offender for the rest of his life, even though he was innocent? I was stunned.
I looked around the courtroom to see if I could spot the man behind the story. My eyes lighted on the bald man in the blue sport jacket and crisp white dress shirt sitting directly in front of me. Could this be him? He seemed so calm. His arm was stretched out casually on the back of the bench seat. I noted the gold wedding band on his finger, and thought how amazing that this man was able to do twenty years of hard time, lose his children, and still find love again. My hunch was confirmed when Ray stood to leave the courtroom with his attorney, after the judges finished his case.
It took another year before Ray got the exoneration. Even though the Appellate Court upheld the exoneration, the Clark County Prosecutor insisted on taking the case to the Supreme Court. Once again Ray won. In October 2010 he was back in the Vancouver court that had originally convicted him, this time to plead not guilty and to have his case dismissed. Finally he was exonerated. . .six years after his release from prison.
Over the years since this appeal I have kept track of Ray, never meeting him but somehow compelled to know more. I read with great interest the occasional news stories describing his lawsuits as he forged ahead to reclaim his life and bring the true criminals to justice. It is from the news stories that I learned the tragic truth behind Ray’s false prosecution. His second wife accused him of sexually abusing his children and her son. At the same time she was secretly having an affair with the police sergeant who supervised child sexual abuse complaints, Michael Davidson. Davidson supervised Detective Sharon Krause. It was Krause who would later fabricate evidence against Spencer. Clark County Prosecutor Jim Peters withheld a video of Spencer’s daughter that would have exonerated him at trial. As this evidence was revealed, I was sickened to think that this man and his family was destroyed and for what?
I suppose my fascination with Ray’s case is because it parallels my own. I shudder to think how I would have survived prison. Oddly our lives are synchronous in several ways. Both of us had to fight false prosecution by prosecutors in Vancouver, Washington. Both of us had exculpatory evidence withheld by government employees. Both of us suffered at the hands of police and prosecutors who fabricated evidence. And both of us had our families destroyed by this cruelty. But I was luckier than Ray. I was able to uncover the corruption before Vancouver Prosecutor Josephine Townsend could put me in prison (see the US~Observer in 2010-11).
Another thing Ray and I have in common is that both of us have doggedly pursued the unethical police, prosecutors and Vancouver officials who tried to destroy our respective lives. It takes a lot to survive the terrorism of wrongful prosecution, but it takes even more courage to go after these criminals once you’re free. Most people just want to be left alone after surviving these ordeals. Not Ray (or me). We want vindication. So when I learned that Ray had published a book entitled, “Memoirs of an Innocent Man,” I just had to contact him. I wanted to learn the whole story behind this remarkable man, who survived so much horror. . . who reclaimed his children . . . who found love again. . . who was fighting back. . . and who was a kindred spirit.
Our conversation was brief on that day I called Ray. He answered the phone promptly. He filled me in on some missing pieces such as the fact that he had finished a doctorate in psychology while in prison. His dissertation is on mental health in the prison system, something that he is passionate about improving. I told him that my own book about my tangle with Clark County is about to be published too (“No one calls me Mom anymore”). Both of us shared snippets of our horrendous journey as survivors, who know what it is to fight but also know when to lay down the sword and enjoy the present moment.
What’s next for Ray?
On March 9, 2017 (13 years after his sentence was commuted) Ray was once again in court, the United States Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. This time, Sharon Krause, the Vancouver Detective who had lied about Spencer and concocted false evidence against him, was appealing the $9million judgement. See the video of the moment the judges voiced incredulity with her attorney’s argument. Even though it had already been proven in federal court that Krause was guilty, her attorney claimed that she couldn’t be held accountable for lying because she “believed” Spencer to be guilty. If you want to watch as the judges voice their astonishment with this bit of legal mumbo jumbo, here is the video.
Ray wants people to know that his fight for vindication is not all about him. He believes he has a purpose and that purpose is more than fighting for his rights or to regain his life. He wants to help others who face the corrupt system where prosecutors like Jim Peters and Detective Sharon Krause are free to create total fabrications and send innocent people to prison.
Kathy Marshack, Ph.D. is a psychologist who was the victim of wrongful prosecution. The US~ Observer helped expose the Vancouver city officials who tried to destroy Dr. Marshack. She has written a book about the experience to be published in 2017, “No one calls me Mom anymore.”
Editor’s Note: This story presents the very reason why people who suffer false arrest should immediately contact the US~Observer. If a person is falsely arrested and innocent that person is still wide open to being falsely convicted and imprisoned no matter how great their defense attorney is – no matter what the facts of the case represent.
Corrupt prosecutors and conscienceless police officers use procedures, lies, distortions, innuendo, emotions, etc., to successfully prosecute the innocent. Ray Spencer’s case proves that sufficient criminal defense is not really sufficient – an innocent man can still spend 20 years in prison. Call the US~Observer at 541-474-7885 if you ever find yourself in a predicament like Ray Spencer did.