Former Iowa school counselor awarded $12 million after being wrongfully imprisoned

News & Politics

An Iowa man who was falsely imprisoned for over six years won $12 million in a lawsuit he filed against the state last week, reports the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

In 2016, Donald Clark was exonerated and released from prison on false charges that he sexually abused a student while working as an elementary school counselor. An Iowa District Court entered an order vacating Clark’s conviction after finding Clark’s public defender was ineffective.

A recent article in Reason highlighted the severe flaws in the case against Clark, including the failure of Clark’s attorney to present any character witnesses, take potentially exculpatory photographs, or inform Clark about depositions of witnesses who could have testified in his favor. Clark’s accuser also later testified “that he lied under oath at the criminal trial; that he also had lied under oath in a prior deposition in the criminal proceedings; and that he knew he was lying under oath when he did so.”

The court ruled that Clark was not only not guilty, but also “actually innocent,” a “legally important finding,” according to a news release from Clark’s lawyers at The Spence Law Firm LLC.

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Clark spent over six years in prison, beginning in 2010.

The jury awarded Clark $8 million in past emotional distress damages and $4 million for future damages after six days of testimony and just over two hours of deliberation.

“A jury said loudly that the state of Iowa must take responsibility when you hurt somebody. That to (Clark), seeing that verdict, was as therapeutic as any amount of money,” Mel Orchard III, one of Clark’s lawyers, told the Press-Citizen. “But money is of course a necessary part of compensating anyone. That amount of money is a drop in the bucket in terms of what they took from him and what they left him with.”

After the verdict, Clark said, “No matter what happens from here on out, I’m not only free from prison, but I’m also free from the state’s prison of lies. With this verdict, the rebuilding of my life can continue.”

Orchard also noted the lasting impact that prison had on Clark. “No matter your belief in your own innocence, your own innocence doesn’t protect you from what prison does to people,” Orchard said.

The Press-Citizen reached out to the Iowa Attorney General’s office to ask if the state plans to appeal the jury’s decision or seek a retrial. The paper did not receive a response at the time of publication.

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