Lawyer on damages following Iowa City sex abuse case

Published: Oct. 4, 2022 at 10:28 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - “He’s been released from prison, but prison will never be released from him,” said Mel Orchard about his client, Donald Clark.

A jury recently awarded Clark $12 million in damages after he spent 6 years in prison for a sex crime he did not commit.

In 2009, Clark was arrested on charges of sexually molesting a student at Helen Lemme Elementary School in Iowa City where Clark was a counselor. He was convicted in 2010. A judge later ruled his defense attorney was ineffective and that the child in the case had admitted to lying under oath. Clark was released from prison in 2016.

Orchard said about Clark, “I don’t have the strength he had, to endure what he had to endure in prison. Unbelievable.”

Orchard added his client maintained his innocence throughout, even when there was the temptation to take a deal. “Before trial... if he would just admit it happened, he’d get a lesser crime,” said Orchard. But he said his client’s attitude was, “No way. Because I didn’t do it, and I’m not going to admit to something that’s a lie, even if it costs me a prison sentence.”

Orchard said issues around Clark’s identity as a gay man were brought up in the malpractice lawsuit against Clark’s first lawyer and the state of Iowa.

“Don Clark saw thousands and thousands of children and unabashedly loved them in the most healthy way that a counselor could,” said Orchard. “But when you’re a gay man in America, especially even just 10, 12 years ago, you are looked at differently. And of those thousands and thousands of children that he had in one-on-one sessions, in his counseling sessions as a school counselor, one alleged anything except that he was an amazing counselor. So those were some of the things that we brought to bear, that we felt like should have been brought to bear, brought for jury’s consideration in the original trial.”

Orchard also said of Clark, “He has post-traumatic stress disorder that will follow him for the rest of his life.”

More information about Clark’s case can be found in The National Registry of Exonerations.