Clark found guilty

BY SAM LANE | FEBRUARY 11, 2010 7:30 AM

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As Donald Clark removed a golden cross from around his neck, he began to cry.

The 41-year-old took his wallet out of his pocket, ripped off his tie, and handed his belongings to the sheriff’s deputy. The officers led him to a door near the courtroom’s witness stand.

After more than six hours of deliberation — over two days — a jury determined that Clark was guilty of second-degree sexual abuse. He was convicted of performing sex acts upon a fifth-grade student in the spring of 2004, when he was a counselor at Lemme Elementary, 3100 E. Washington St.

Cameras clicked, and spectators whispered on Wednesday afternoon when jury members returned the guilty verdict.

The courtroom was seemingly split: Clark’s relatives sat on one side of the large, darkening room. The accuser and his family sat on the other.

After jurors returned the verdict, the teenager and his family stood outside the courtroom. Family members hugged each other and wept. Assistant Johnson County prosecutor Anne Lahey had tears in her eyes as she spoke about the trial.

“Justice was done,” she said. “It’s a step in the right direction for protecting children.”

She said this case, which included no real physical evidence, was particularly difficult.

“We know it’s hard for the jury in these cases,” she said. “Either way, we would have respected the verdict.”

Because the case included no physical evidence, jury members essentially had to decide whether they believed Clark’s testimony or the accuser’s testimony. The trial became what some referred to as a “he said-he said” case.

During his opening statement on Monday, defense attorney John Robertson spoke about the credibility of the minor. He explained the allegations came “out of the past,” from a teen with a troubled childhood.

“I don’t think there will be any questions that this is a child with past struggles who is making these allegations,” Robertson said.

But Lahey had a different view, one she addressed in her closing statement rebuttal.

“He became more withdrawn and angry,” Lahey said about the accuser. “This was the result. There was a traumatic event. They want you to believe he suffered from some mental illness. There’s no evidence of that.”

According to some officials, the number of sexual-abuse cases are decreasing. In 2008, there were 636 incidents of sexual abuse involving children in Iowa, according to Child Abuse Iowa.

“It’s better than it was before,” said Steve Scott, the executive director of the organization. “We’re making progress there. I hope it’s some of our prevention work.”

Clark’s sentencing is set for March 26. Lahey said Clark’s charge means he will have to serve a minimum of 70 percent of that sentence before he is eligible for parole. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

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