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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — A Johnson County jury has awarded a former Iowa City elementary school counselor, who had a conviction of sexual abuse of a student vacated in 2016, $12 million in civil damages.
The jury returned the civil verdict Thursday for Donald L. Clark, 54, of Iowa City, after just two hours of deliberation following six days of testimony, according to a news release by Mel C. Orchard III of the Spence Law Firm in Jackson, Wyo.
Two Iowa lawyers, Thomas P. Frerichs of Waterloo and Frank J. Nidey of Cedar Rapids, also represented Clark at trial.
The jury found that Clark’s original lawyer, John Robertson, a former Johnson County public defender, failed to investigate the prosecution’s case against Clark and a “substandard trial performance led to his conviction and wrongful imprisonment,” according to Clark’s lawyers. Robertson died in 2013.
Jurors awarded Clark $8 million in past emotional distress damages and $4 million for future damages.
The Iowa Supreme Court upheld Clark’s conviction in 2012. He was accused of sexually abusing a fifth-grade student at Lemme Elementary School during the 2003-04 school year.
However, in a post-conviction 2016 ruling, 6th Judicial District Judge Sean McPartland vacated Clark’s conviction after ruling Robertson was ineffective in his defense of Clark, according to the news release.
The judge, in his ruling, said Clark was “actually innocent” of the crime and granted him a new trial. Clark had already served six years of his 25-year prison sentence by then.
Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness decided not to prosecute Clark again and the charges were dropped.
“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,” Clark said in a statement after the verdict. With this verdict, the rebuilding of my life can continue.”
Orchard, in a statement, said he is grateful that the jury was “moved to do justice for and honor a member of their community. This verdict for a good man reinforced my belief that the jury system is the most important part of our democracy.”
Frerichs, in a statement, said “Fighting for people like Don Clark who are wrongly accused or convicted is my life’s work. He deserved justice, and this verdict was another step forward for him in setting the record straight.”
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