TACOMA — Two former Clark County Sheriff’s detectives — one motivated by sex, the other by ambition — framed Clyde Ray Spencer for child sex abuse, Spencer’s attorney alleged as trial began in a federal lawsuit against the detectives in U.S. District Court in Tacoma on Wednesday.
“This case is so incredibly simple,” Kathleen Zellner told the jury during opening statements. “It has to do with the deliberate fabrication of evidence” by former detective Sharon Krause and her boss, former detective sergeant Michael Davidson. “The motivation was sex and ambition.”
Davidson was having an affair with Spencer’s wife, Shirley, Zellner said. Krause was building her career as a sex crimes investigator — to the point that she was giving presentations at sex crimes seminars in several states. Together, Krause and Davidson crafted a phony case alleging Spencer sexually assaulted his daughter, son and stepson, Zellner said. That included concealing medical exams that showed two of three alleged victims had not been abused, coaching at least one witness and fabricating polygraph test results to make it look as if Spencer was lying when questioned about allegations that he sexually abused his then-5-year-old daughter.
A videotaped interview with Spencer’s daughter in 1984 that casts doubt on the case also was withheld, Zellner said.
Throughout this ordeal, Spencer was being treated for depression. Failed by his defense attorney — who did little investigative work and called no witnesses to testify on his behalf — Spencer entered a no contest plea in May 1985, Zellner said. He was sentenced to two life terms plus 14 years on charges he sexually abused his son, daughter and stepson.
Spencer nearly spent 20 years behind bars before being released in 2004 after his sentence was commuted by Gov. Gary Locke. Locke cited several troubling aspects of the case, including the affair Davidson had with Spencer’s wife and the fact that detectives had withheld evidence in the case.
While the lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages, “I don’t believe any amount of money in the world could compensate someone for this lost life,” Zellner said.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Freimund, who represents Davidson, disputed Zellner’s characterization of the case. Davidson and Spencer’s wife did not become romantically involved until after Spencer went to prison, Freimund said. Beyond that, Davidson and Krause were simply doing their jobs by fairly and independently investigating allegations that Spencer had sexually abused his daughter, son and stepson. They turned the results of the investigation over to Clark County prosecutors, who were responsible for the decision to file the charges that sent Spencer to prison, he said.
Defense attorney Guy Bogdanovich, who is representing Krause, said she had an impeccable reputation for her work as a child sex abuse investigator. He also pointed to a Vancouver Police Department internal affairs investigation that concluded Spencer had abused the children, which helped bolster Krause’s conclusions about Spencer’s guilt.
In addition, Spencer told detectives he couldn’t remember abusing the children, the defense team also said. He ultimately pleaded no contest — acknowledging there was enough evidence for a jury to convict him.
Former Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Art Curtis was the first witness to take the stand. In response to questions from Spencer’s attorneys, Curtis acknowledged he had not been aware of medical exams that showed Spencer’s daughter and stepson had not been physically abused when he filed sex abuse charges against Spencer. He also acknowledged he had not been aware of a video of a deputy prosecutor’s interview with Spencer’s daughter when he charged Spencer.
Throughout much of the video, which was played in court Wednesday, Spencer’s daughter refused to say her father abused her. The video camera was turned off for an unknown period of time. When the camera started recording again, Spencer’s daughter briefly demonstrated the abuse using two dolls. It appears from the video that former Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jim Peters helped Spencer’s daughter rehearse her testimony while the camera was off.
The medical examinations and the video did not come to light until long after Spencer went to prison.
Spencer is expected to take the witness stand today, his 66th birthday.