Years lost: 24
Cobb County, GA | July, 1981
A woman in East Atlanta was kidnapped and brutally raped multiple times by an armed man who then stole her car.
The 5'6" victim reported to the police that the attacker was about an inch taller than she. Two times over the next week, the victim saw a black male in her car.
Police canvassed the neighborhood and learned that 6'2" tall Robert Clark had driven the victim’s car. Police arrested Robert for car theft rather than rape, since he did not match the victim’s description.
Robert initially lied to police about where he got the stolen car to cover for his friend Tony Arnold, who had loaned Robert the car.
When Robert told the police the truth about Arnold, the police did not believe him.
Robert quickly became the prime suspect, despite the discrepancies between his appearance and the victim’s description of her assailant. Police failed to investigate alternate suspects and instead placed photographs of Robert in a book of suspects and then a photo array, which they sequentially presented to the victim. On both occasions, the victim selected someone other than Robert Clark. Undeterred by the victim’s repeated failure to identify Robert, police chose Robert as the only suspect from the photo array to then present to the victim in a live line-up. The victim, upon this third time viewing Robert Clark in police presence, finally identified him as her attacker.
A defense witness in Robert’s trial testified that she saw Tony Arnold driving a car matching the victim’s car shortly after the attack. The witness also made an in-court identification of Tony Arnold. Despite this testimony, the fact that Robert was almost seven inches taller than the victim’s initial description and the lack of physical evidence tying Robert Clark to the crime, a jury convicted Robert of rape, kidnapping and armed robbery.
At sentencing Robert again tried to explain that he was innocent—that he simply had borrowed the car from Tony Arnold. The trial judge told Robert, “Mr. Clark, you have had your trial. Just remain silent.” The judge then sentenced Robert to life in prison plus 20 years.
For the next 24 years, Robert Clark steadfastly maintained his innocence. In 2003, the Innocence Project, with the Georgia Innocence Project acting as local counsel, filed a motion to test the DNA in Robert’s case. The DNA results excluded Robert and, when entered in CODIS, implicated Tony Arnold, who, by then, was serving time in prison for sodomy and cruelty to children.
In 2007, Tony Arnold was convicted of the rape for which Robert Clark had been wrongfully imprisoned for 24 years.
Robert Clark Exonerated | December 8, 2005
Robert was exonerated in December 2005, and walked out of prison an innocent man. At the time of his arrest, he was 21 years old, the father of a 5-year-old son, and lived with his mother, who never lost faith in him throughout his trial and incarceration. Robert’s mother sadly passed away just one year before his exoneration. Upon his release, Robert was a 45-year-old grandfather. When asked his feelings upon walking out of prison, Robert said, “Joyful. Grateful. No anger. No hatred, animosity, or revenge.”
Rape, Kidnapping, Armed Robbery
The Innocence Project
Life + 20