This is the most disturbing case I’ve ever read of parents wrongfully involving their kids in their marital troubles. Two grown children have come forward with claims that their father, who was convicted of molesting them soon after their parents divorced, never actually abused them.
Matthew Spencer and Kathryn Tetz were nine and five, respectively, when their father was investigated for sexual abuse. Now 33 and 30, Matthew and Kathryn testified in court recently that their father, who spent twenty years in jail for child rape, is an innocent man.
Both children told the court that their mother told them they had been abused by their father, but that they had blocked out the painful memories. Matthew recalls how detective Sharon Krause hounded him about the abuse for months, until he finally answered “yes” to her questions to get her to leave him alone. Kathryn was too young to remember what exactly she told Krause, but she remembers that the detective took her out for ice cream.
After Matthew and Kathryn read the police reports as adults, they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that their father had never violently and repeatedly raped them in the graphic manner they described to pushy prosecutors as kids. They realize now that their father was far from the ideal husband, but this did not make him a child rapist.
Their father, Clyde Ray Spencer, pleaded guilty to the charges because he couldn’t afford an attorney, and his court-appointed lawyer failed to come up with a defense. Although Spencer was sentenced to two life sentences in prison, his sentence was commuted in 2004 when it came to light that prosecutors had withheld medical examinations which showed no evidence of abuse.
But Spencer is still a convicted sex offender, a conviction that his kids are seeking to overturn. Although 61-year-old Spencer is grateful that his name is finally being cleared, he is most happy to have his children back in his life. “They were my life, and they were taken away from me. That was the hardest part. I could serve in prison,” he said.
After Spencer is cleared, I hope that both Krause and Spencer’s ex-wife are sued for the damages they’ve caused. Not only did they destroy an innocent man’s life, but they also irredeemably sullied children’s lives by taking them away from a loving father and causing them to grow up with the traumatic false understanding that they had suffered terrible abuse, an understanding that may well have had damaging affects on their psyches and romantic relationships.
This case shows how the laudable drive to prosecute sexual abuse does have some dangers. There’s a fine line between taking children’s abuse claims seriously and convicting a man to life in prison based solely on a five year-old’s testimony. I hope that in the decades since Clyde’s conviction, courts have learned to tread that line with far more care.
Photo: The Columbian