Man freed from prison doesn't blame rape victim for incarceration

Elisha Anderson

DETROIT – The victim in a rape case and the man convicted of the crime hugged after leaving a Detroit courtroom Thursday.

Then the two got into an elevator with their families, rode to the first floor and talked as they walked out of the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice.

“It wasn’t her fault that I was incarcerated,” said James Clay.

A jury convicted Clay of rape in 2017, but new information casts doubt that he was responsible for what happened in a Detroit alley two decades earlier. On Thursday, a hearing was held to determine whether Clay will be granted a new trial.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Wanda Evans said she will give her decision on Aug. 30.

Clay was released on bond from prison last month after a Detroit Free Press investigation into the case.

James Clay hugs the victim in his rape case after a hearing in the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. The two appeared in Wayne County Circuit Judge Wanda Evans' courtroom for a hearing on whether he should be granted a new trial.

Earlier this year, the victim was shown a picture of what Clay, now 38, looked like when he was younger. She said she had an intimate relationship with him when she was a teenager, around the time she was raped.

Jurors, though, heard that she never had consensual sex with Clay. DNA found inside her matched Clay, and he was convicted. Clay has repeatedly said he's innocent.

“If this new evidence were presented now, it’s unlikely that the defendant would be convicted,” Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Amy Somers said during Thursday’s hearing.

DNA put him behind bars for rape: Then his old girlfriend saw a photo that set him free

Somers and Clay’s attorney, Melvin Houston, asked for a new trial.

“We will wait for the judge to rule before commenting on any future action,” Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Maria Miller said in an email.

In Evans' courtroom Thursday, the prosecution and defense summarized what the testimony would be from two private investigators who worked recently on the case, a detective with the prosecutor's office and the victim.

The victim was the only person to take the stand, and her testimony was brief. The Detroit Free Press and USA TODAY do not generally identify victims of sexual assault.

She said she wished she had been shown pictures of what Clay looked like when he was younger then she would have recognized him earlier.

James Clay listens to his defense attorney talk in front of Wayne County Circuit Judge Wanda Evans at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019.

When investigators talked to the victim and Clay separately in 2017, neither recognized the other from pictures police showed them. They were adults in the pictures, not teenagers, which they have recently said is the last time they saw each other.

Twenty years passed between when the rape was reported to police and Clay’s trial. That’s because the victim’s rape kit was one of about 11,000 untested kits discovered in a police property storage facility in 2009. They were later tested.

As the case remained unsolved, memories faded and appearances changed.

At the time of the rape, Clay was 16 and the victim was 15. They are now both in their late 30s.

The victim told police in 2017 about her relationship with a young man named "Chad" in high school. Clay’s middle name is Chad-Lewis and he has gone by Chad his entire life. Police at the time questioned Clay, who gave details that didn't match what the victim told police about how she knew Chad. The case against him proceeded. He never testified during his trial.

Prosecutors and the defense sought his release from prison last month, saying the "new information seriously calls into question the integrity of defendant's conviction."

Clay walked out of the Macomb Correctional Facility on July 23. He has been spending time with his family since being released.

"The plan right now is just to get exonerated," Clay said as he left court Thursday.

Follow Elisha Anderson on Twitter: @elishaanderson

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Man, convicted of rape and now freed from prison: Not victim's fault