Clark Jerome McMillan was arrested and detained on October 30, 1979 for the October 26, 1979 rape and robbery with a deadly weapon of a 16-year-old girl. Clark is African American; the victim is white. In May 1980, he stood trial and was convicted of rape and robbery with a deadly weapon. On May 2, 2002, he became the 108th person in the United States to be exonerated due to post-conviction DNA testing.
The 16-year-old victim and her boyfriend were abducted from the Overton Park area in Memphis, Tennessee. After having parked near the entrance of the park, they were accosted by a man wielding a knife and forced out of their vehicle. The perpetrator robbed the victim’s boyfriend and forced them both into the woods, where he ordered them to disrobe. He ordered the victim’s boyfriend to lay face down on the ground and proceeded to rape the victim. She was also cut as she struggled with her assailant. As he fled, the assailant ordered them to remain on the ground and not to get dressed until he had gone.
The victim and her boyfriend, unable to find their car keys, flagged down a passing car and were driven to her Sunday school teacher’s home. The doorman there notified the police, who questioned the victims and took them to a rape crisis center where evidence was collected.
The medical exam corroborated the victim’s claim that, prior to the attack, she was a virgin. The crotch of her blue jeans were caked with semen. Examination of the vaginal swabs revealed motile spermatozoa. No testing was performed at the time of trial except for visual inspection and a presumptive screening for seminal fluid, which was positive.
The victim and her boyfriend gave similar descriptions of the perpetrator, but apparently neither mentioned a limp. McMillan had been shot two years earlier, wore a leg brace, and walked with an obvious limp. At trial, however, the limp was added to her description. As for the identification – at the initial photo spread which purportedly included a photo of McMillan, the victim picked no one and the boyfriend selected a filler. At the line-up, she identified McMillan but the boyfriend again selected a filler. Nevertheless, at trial both identified McMillan in a line-up.
McMillan claimed that he was at his sister’s house with his girlfriend at the time of the crime. Although his sister and girlfriend testified and supported his alibi, McMillan was convicted of rape and robbery with a deadly weapon and sentence to 119 years in prison.
All of his appeals were denied. McMillan then contacted the Innocence Project in 1996 and his case was accepted a year later. Due to the age of the case and difficulties with prior counsel, students spent years tracking down his files and evidence and negotiating a protocol for testing. Kemper Durand, a distinguished criminal defense attorney in Memphis, became co-counsel with the Project and set up a procedure with the Shelby County prosecutor’s office for handling this case and several others pending in Memphis. Eventually, the original blue jeans, still caked with semen in the crotch, were split and tested. In April 2002, test results revealed that Clark McMillan was excluded as the depositor of spermatozoa from the rape kit.
Under a recently enacted post-conviction DNA access law, McMillan moved to vacate the conviction and dismiss the indictment. On May 2, 2002, with the consent of the District Attorney General, the conviction was vacated and the charges were dismissed.
McMillan was being held in prison after his exoneration on an unrelated gun possession charge from 1979, for which he was given two years in federal prison. The Bureau of Prisons granted him time served and Clark McMillan was freed from prison on May 15, 2002. He had spent over 22 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.
On October 1, 2017, McMillan died of lung cancer at age 61.
Charge: Rape, Robbery
Conviction: Aggravated Rape, Robbery with a Deadly Weapon
Sentence: 119 years
Incident Date: 10/26/1979
Conviction Date: 05/15/1980
Exoneration Date: 05/02/2002
Accused Pleaded Guilty: No
Contributing Causes of Conviction: Eyewitness Misidentification
Death Penalty Case: No
Race of Defendant: African American
Race of Victim: Caucasian
Status: Exonerated by DNA
Alternative Perpetrator Identified: Yes
Type of Crime: Sex Crimes