Kids Recant Sex Abuse Claim Against Dad After He Serves 20 Years

Former police officer Clyde Ray Spencer spent 20 years in prison after his kids claimed he sexually molested them and he pleaded no contest to the charges. On Friday, at a court hearing, the kids, now adults, said the abuse never happened.

What persuaded them at first that it did happen and why did it take them so long to retract the claims?

Matthew, now 33, was 9 years old at the time. He told a judge he made the allegation after months of insistent questioning by now-retired Clark County sheriff's detective Sharon Krause just so she would leave him alone.

Tetz, 30, said she doesn't remember what she told Krause back in 1985, but she remembers Krause buying her ice cream. She said that when she finally read the police reports she was "absolutely sure" the abuse never happened. "I would have remembered something that graphic, that violent," Tetz said.


As to what took them so long:

Both children said that while growing up in California they were told by their mother, who divorced Spencer before he was charged, that they were blocking out the memory of the abuse.

They said they realized as adults the abuse never happened, and they came forward because it was the right thing to do.

Gov. Gary Locke commuted Spence's sentence in 2004, but he remains a sex offender and is seeking to overturn the conviction.

Spencer's sentence was commuted by then-Gov. Gary Locke in 2004 after questions arose about his conviction. Among other problems, prosecutors withheld medical exams that showed no evidence of abuse, even though Krause claimed the abuse was repeated and violent.

The DA says he isn't giving up on the conviction.

Senior deputy prosecutor Kim Farr grilled the children about why they are so certain they weren't abused, and chief criminal deputy prosecutor Dennis Hunter said that if the convictions are tossed, his office might appeal to the state Supreme Court.

He was a former police officer. I wonder why he originally pleaded no contest to the charges. To spare his kids the trial? Was he led to believe he'd get probation? The article ends with a description of the hugs and cheers from his kids and supporters at Friday's hearing:

The hardest thing about his ordeal was missing his children, he said. "They were my life, and they were taken away from me," he said. "I could serve in prison. ..." His voice trailed off, and his son came up for one more hug.

I wonder where the ex-wife/mom is today and whether she's still pressing the DA to keep fighting.

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    it's good to agree once in awhile (5.00 / 2) (#14)
    by diogenes on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 09:44:30 PM EST
    Diogenes is always cynical about claims of "repressed" or "blocked" memories of horrific abuse.  This case is one more reason to videotape all interrogations.

    To save his children from having to (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by Inspector Gadget on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 09:48:46 PM EST
    testify and deal with the years of emotional torture they would have had to endure while adults they were supposed to trust pushed them into doing this to their dad, maybe?

    Some parents really will go to any extreme if they believe it is the right thing to do for their children.

    Not of sound mind? (none / 0) (#26)
    by Romberry on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 06:45:28 AM EST
    See my other post.

    The missing chunks (5.00 / 2) (#21)
    by NYShooter on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 11:31:01 PM EST
    to this story makes any discussion of this particular case completely futile.

    Beg to differ (5.00 / 1) (#30)
    by DancingOpossum on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 09:27:47 AM EST
    cases of repressed memory of abuse do occur and are legitimate.

    No, they don't and they aren't. There has never been a proven case of a "repressed memory" that couldn't be described as simple forgetting. Experimental (not clinical) psychologists have done scads of work on memory, largely because of the haywire "repressed memory/satanic witch cult-daycare" hysteria of the 80s.

    One of the surprising developments in the study of memory is that many people completely forget key details or even the entire occurrence of major life events, negative OR positive -- including things we would reasonably expect people never to forget (these include things like violent assaults, car accidents, but also winning a major prize or scoring a winning point in a game). People completely forgot these things happening to them -- and on the flip side, it's amazingly easy to induce people to believe that things happened to them that didn't. And sorting out the truth is often impossible unless there's a third party involved who was a witness--and assuming the witness's memory is reliable, which is a toss-up as even people present at the same event will report entirely different accounts of it.

    Here's a simple and rather silly example from my own experience: Once my mother and I were talking about the movie "Raging Bull," and I mentioned I had seen it with an ex-bf of mine. She countered, "No, you didn't, we saw it together," and proceeded to name the theater, state the time of year, and describe what I was wearing that day. She'll repeat this any time the subject comes up. I, however, will go to my grave swearing that I saw the movie in an entirely different city with an entirely different person. Is one of us lying? No. We're both sure we're right, but one of us clearly isn't.

    You might say a movie is a trivial example, but as I noted, studies have found this happens constantly, with all kinds of events. And any criminal defense lawyer can tell you about studies debunking the reliability of "eyewitnesses."

    Anyone who has a sibling has probably (5.00 / 2) (#35)
    by esmense on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:38:29 PM EST
    experienced this phenomenon. I swear my brother grew up in a separate universe from my own.

    More reading (5.00 / 1) (#31)
    by DancingOpossum on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 09:35:41 AM EST
    Recent article on a priest sex-abuse case that may have been based on "evidence" of repressed memory:

    This will be the first time a Massachusetts court fully considers the scientific, evidentiary basis for repressed memory. The Commonwealth is behind the curve. Since 1998 state courts have been dismissing repressed memory as junk science, and prosecutions based on it have become rare. In 2007 an Indiana court rejected Dr. Brown's testimony as misleading, and a federal judge threw out a $1.75 million verdict in a case that hinged on Brown's expertise. In a 2006 amicus brief, dozens of pre-eminent social science researchers stated, "Decades of research and scientific debate have clarified over and over again that the notion of traumatic events being somehow 'repressed' and later accurately recovered is one of the most pernicious bits of folklore ever to infect psychology and psychiatry."


    Elizabeth Loftus is one of the most respected researchers in the field of memory, especially childhood memory--this is an article from the height of the repressed memory craze:


    I read the story (none / 0) (#1)
    by Fabian on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 08:02:16 PM EST
    which unfortunately doesn't disclose exactly how and why the charges came about.  

    Hearing only part of the story is very unsatisfying.

    These stories are plentiful (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by Inspector Gadget on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 08:25:35 PM EST
    The players include law enforcement, lawyers and pyschologists. This trend was especially big in the 80s and 90s with day cares being the big news targets. Many have come forward exposing what the authorities and pyschologists did to trick the children into telling these outlandish tales. Even with the bizzare stories that were often included, the convicted spent decades in prison (women and men). Following the trials, one never would have believed sane jurors could convict, but they did.

    I wonder how the emotional scars of sending someone to prison by lying as a young child can heal. Where does a person go for that...to the pyschologists who led them into this mess to begin with?


    Yes, one well-known case (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by shoephone on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 09:00:25 PM EST
    was the Wenatchee Sex Ring Trial, in which dozens of people (both children and adults) testified against the Robertsons. They were later found to be innocent of all charges.

    However, cases of repressed memory of abuse do occur and are legitimate. After a lot of painful therapy work, a good friend of mine was able to stop blocking memories of her father abusing her when she was a toddler. After she worked through therapy and confronted her father about the abuse, he denied it. But then my friend's aunt (the father's much-younger sister-in-law) came forward and admitted he had also abused her years before, when she was still a teenager. At that point he realized the game was up and he admitted all the people and all the abuse he had perpetrated over the years. My friend never considered legal action against him, she just wanted to heal herself and move on with her life... which she has done.


    43 adults were arrested in that case (none / 0) (#7)
    by Inspector Gadget on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 09:06:57 PM EST
    not just the Robertsons, and many were convicted.

    I remember that. It was a travesty. (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by shoephone on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 09:21:07 PM EST
    I also remember the McMartin Pre-school trial. There are lots of examples (as your Wiki link provides). Unfortunately, there are also real examples of people who truly were guilty of abuse, and repressed memory was an issue for the victims. In most cases, those victims are extremely frightened of coming foward.

    Jes' sayin'. It ain't either-or.


    Of course there are the legitimate (none / 0) (#12)
    by Inspector Gadget on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 09:26:51 PM EST

    This post, however, is about one of the frauds, which is why we're talking about the cases that were manufactured.


    Yes, thank you. (none / 0) (#17)
    by shoephone on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 10:26:28 PM EST
    I can read.

    No one suggested otherwise (none / 0) (#20)
    by Inspector Gadget on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 10:48:25 PM EST

    Sounds like a divorce gone bad, or at least... (none / 0) (#3)
    by Romberry on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 08:40:17 PM EST
    ...one might take that implication from this:

    Both children said that while growing up in California they were told by their mother, who divorced Spencer before he was charged, that they were blocking out the memory of the abuse.

    I have to say as a father who has experience with an acrimonious divorce that wives and soon to be former wives (and yes, I am sure the reverse is also true) can and will make bizarre charges in order to get the upper hand in divorce proceedings, and in some cases will continue for years afterward to use the legal system as a means of harassment to extract a vindictive pound (or several pounds) of flesh. It isn't clear that is what happened here, but I'd not be surprised if it were the case.



    It's also entirely (5.00 / 0) (#4)
    by gyrfalcon on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 08:53:34 PM EST
    possible that she believed the kids' story initially, wouldn't you say?  Suggesting the wife made the whole thing up in order to gain an advantage in the divorce is pretty vile.

    As a commenter pointed out above, we went through a horrendous period of hypersensitivity to the possibility of abuse, and some psychologists were even being taught in graduate school that there were widespread "satanic cults" organized around child sexual abuse and that it was their duty to uncover these "repressed memories" in their patients.


    My thought is that (none / 0) (#6)
    by sj on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 09:05:14 PM EST
    the allegations would not have originated with Krause who was with the sheriff's office.  Even as I admit I don't know anything about the specific case, and -- as Fabian points out -- the article doesn't say how the charges came about, I will say this: it may be a vile suggestion, but I've seen some pretty vile things come out of an acrimonious divorce.  

    As for believing the kids story?  According to the article they didn't have a story until Krause gave them one.


    Always possible, but (none / 0) (#9)
    by Inspector Gadget on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 09:15:06 PM EST
    even many repressed memory situations have ended up being the brainchild of an over-aggressive pyschologist.

    In this case, the parents were separated by many miles and it would have made visitation a very inconvenient part of life. What bothers me is that there was no physical sign of abuse, something that should have mandated reasonable doubt. That 20 year sentence seems excessive when a physician couldn't provide testimony that it happened.


    Based on that article? (none / 0) (#22)
    by Romberry on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:00:46 AM EST
    No, I wouldn't say that at all. Quote: "they were told by their mother, who divorced Spencer before he was charged, that they were blocking out the memory of the abuse."

    Sounds to me as if the mother was the source of the claim to begin with and had to convince the children that something they didn't remember had happened to them (even though there was apparently no evidence of it.)


    Gah, psychology used to be so terrible (none / 0) (#8)
    by MrConservative on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 09:08:20 PM EST
    Our understanding of memory has increased considerably in recent years.

    Back in the 80's and 90's, psychologists would talk to people and they'd announce all of the sudden that they had uncovered "repressed" memories.  

    Now we understand that memory is malable, suggestion is powerful, and that those memories may very well have been implanted.  They might even believe these implanted "repressed" memories actually happened, until years later when they shake off the absurdity.  In my opinion, these practices are child abuse.


    Used to be?? (none / 0) (#11)
    by Inspector Gadget on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 09:24:39 PM EST
    They run in waves of destruction. Child abuse, repressed memory, ADHD, Autism. It's a "flavor of the year" profession, IMO.

    I have a relative who was the victim of a priest. He's been in therapy now for over 30 years, and he gets more angry with every year. I've begged him to just take 6 months off and see if his anger starts to subside, but he's terrified to step away from the person who has him believing he is his only allie.

    My son at one time thought he wanted to work with children in grief counseling, so he took a class in pyschology. That was the end of his pursuit toward that profession.


    Flavors (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by womanwarrior on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 10:19:34 PM EST
    Yes, and the current flavor now is that they want everyone to believe that anybody who looks at a picture of child porn on the internet is a pedophile who will be physically going after children any minute. And they are catching immature, socially inept guys who have jobs but no social life.  And they get long sentences and have to register as sex offenders for life.  But the people who produce the child pornography?  Oh, too hard to get.

    Things change. (5.00 / 1) (#28)
    by Fabian on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 09:07:15 AM EST
    Mental health professionals were between useless and damaging WRT autism twenty years ago.  I met a woman briefly who had a young son who was going through "regression therapy" about that time.  Knowing what I know now, her son seemed to be autistic and in the throes of a sensory meltdown.

    Now we know a lot more about autism and have some successful strategies to deal with the challenges of autism.  I'm happy that we talk about various mental disorders now instead of hiding them behind closed doors and walls of silence.

    It's amazing how often "My son is autistic spectrum." (to explain his behavior) will elicit a reply of "I know someone who has an autistic child.".   I'll take understanding over ignorance any day!


    Actually, it takes time (none / 0) (#34)
    by Inspector Gadget on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:01:35 PM EST
    Comparing the pyschology practitioners to the medical doctors is a difficult argument to make. One being far more subjective without tests to confirm many situations.  We certainly do scream when someone is misdiagnosed and dies early as the result, but pyschologists have a history of over-diagnosing maladies at the earliest stage of discovery and destroying lives in their wake.

    They simply walked away from what they did to hundreds of people in those trials. They simply walked away from all the drug-addicted teens their over-diagnosed ADHD prescription pads could handle.

    The profession embarrassed itself, and what I found so seriously troubling was that no legitimate practitioner came forward and disputed the ridiculous claims (elephants in the daycare, the kids taking airplane trips during the day, etc.) to keep all those people from losing their right to freedom and family.


    The daycare case was abysmal (none / 0) (#36)
    by Fabian on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 05:23:27 PM EST
    I'd have to go back and read the book again to figure out how the prosecutor pulled that one off.  I remember some of the bizarre discrepancies and how the prosecution's case resembled a conspiracy theory.  That was definitely a case for the textbooks.

    That's why I'm interested how this particular case came about.  The lesson to be learned is that if the father was innocent, how the case was prosecuted with no evidence.


    They all were (none / 0) (#37)
    by Inspector Gadget on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 05:47:54 PM EST
    Several of those cases were made into movies, too. They were a horrifying example to all Americans at how easy it can be to find yourself at the mercy of such astronomical ignorance.

    Sounds like you have a personal problem (none / 0) (#18)
    by shoephone on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 10:28:29 PM EST
    with the psychology profession.

    Not personal at all (none / 0) (#19)
    by Inspector Gadget on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 10:46:26 PM EST
    I have no personal experience with them, I simply find that they are too often at the center of things that make no sense.

    Interesting. (5.00 / 1) (#29)
    by Fabian on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 09:11:49 AM EST
    Why not just regard the advances in psychology the same way we do the other medical profession.  We keep learning more and often one of things we learn is that our previous understanding was flawed.

    At least those involved in treating physical disorders don't constantly have to face an attitude that there's nothing really wrong their patients or that a disorder like diabetes is over diagnosed.


    Timing is everything (none / 0) (#25)
    by Romberry on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 06:44:07 AM EST
    This case is apparently around 20 years old. Know what other case was all over the news around 20 (give or take a few years) ago? The McMartin Preschool case. Opening statements in that case were in July of 1987.

    The whole decade was somewhat crazy. The excellent PBS Frontline show, The Child Terror, documents the insanity of the time. Examples of the sorts of things that could happen to perfectly innocent people were on display in the first McMartin trial, and also in what some now call The Amirault Tragedy.

    My point in linking to these things is to posit what possible reason an innocent man might have for entering a plea of nolo contendre. It seems possible to me that given the hysteria of the time and also the massive amounts of money that it takes to put on an effective defense, accepting the consequences of a nolo plea without actually admitting guilt might have been the only option and may well have been the advice of counsel. The last thing defense counsel wants is for to have children in front of a jury describing sexual and/or physical abuse at the hands of a parent, especially during that period of time in our history.

    Some of what went on in the 80's with respect to "The Child Terror" were just plain hysteria and perhaps reminiscent in some ways of witch trials.

    I'm really just guessing about all of this, but I think it may not be a bad guess. It was a dark time.

    Prosecution 101 (none / 0) (#32)
    by Rojas on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:10:34 AM EST
    These type of cases are where Janet Reno got her creds.
    It won her the top spot at the DOJ where her first offical act was the approval of torture of the children, to the point of killing the children if need be.

    Modern Equivalent (none / 0) (#33)
    by sj on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 11:32:43 AM EST
    It was the 20th century equivalent of the Salem Witch Trials.

    recanted child abuse accusations (none / 0) (#27)
    by Rain on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 08:22:01 AM EST
    It's just horrible that we have become so abusive in our society that lives can be ruined because someone can manipulate a child to report abuse that never occurred.
    A friend of mine was recently falsely accused.  Fortunately, the child involved was very young and the people who "coached" her used language a child her age would never use.  Authorities were on the ball and picked up on it immediately.  
    Now the coaches are being watched. The unfortunate part, however, is that this child WAS abused, to make it all look legitimate.
    It is still under investigation, my friend does not have access to her grandchild, and investigators are looking into the parent's friends--one of whom has been accused, but not convicted of minor abuse