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interview clyde charles

Update on the Story of Clyde Charles
See what's happened to Clyde Charles in the three years since FRONTLINE first reported his story. An update on his life and struggles is part of FRONTLINE's April 2003 report, "The Burden of Innocence."

What do you remember of the night you were arrested?

clyde charles
Interview with Clyde Charles, imprisoned at Angola State Prison, Louisiana for 18 years. He proclaimed his innocence in a rape case, but for nearly a decade his requests for DNA testing were ignored by the state. After his case was taken up by Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project, a DNA test was finally agreed upon. In November 1999 the tests came back negative for Charles and on December 17, 1999 he was released from Angola.
It was March 12, 1981. A friend and I went out to bars after work. Then my ride forgot, and left without me. My brother was with me. We started walking home. . . We called another brother to get a ride, but he couldn't do it. So I kept on walking. I stopped at a friend's house, then left around 4:30 in the morning, walking down Highway 57 again. I stopped at a cousin's house, then kept walking. From my cousin's house, I could see the area where the crime took place. I didn't see any police officers. I didn't see anything in that area. Then I moved on, kept walking.

How did you come to be picked up by the police?

It was around 4:30 in the morning. I started hitchhiking. Then I encountered a police officer. He stopped for me on the side of the road, and asked me to put my hands on the hood of the car. He had a gun drawn, and I said, "What's all this about?" He says, "Shut up. Just do what I tell you to do." So I did. I put my hands on the car. He frisked me. He put me in handcuffs and threw me in the back of his car. And I'm saying, "What is this about? You got to tell me something." He said, "Shut up. You'll find out when you get there." Now I'm afraid for my life, because this man just picked me, and I know I didn't do anything. So I called this man all kind of things. After that, he finally told me that a woman got raped, and he's charging me with aggravated rape.

What happened next?

Then he brought me to the hospital. There were detectives, people out there standing on the emergency ramp. So he drove me up there on the emergency ramp. He asked me to get out of the car. I asked, "Get out of the car for what?" He just said, "Nigger, get out of the car." I got out of the car. He put me in front of the car, on the emergency ramp, with my hands cuffed behind my back in a profile position. . . Suddenly, out of my perimeter view, I saw them roll a white female out there in a wheelchair. Every time I tried to face her, they smashed my head back with their hands. I kept hearing the police officer say, "Make sure he's the one, make sure you identify him right." From my perimeter view, I saw her shaking her head, saying that I'm the one that committed the crime. . . I don't know what prompted her to say that I was the one. The only thing she was saying was that it was a black man. And I was a black man. She said that the man who raped her had short hair and no facial hair. I had an Afro bush, a mustache, and a goatee, plain to see.

Did you think the truth would ultimately come out at trial?

I went to trial in June, 1982. We were picking the jurors. Out of all those jurors, I ended up with ten women and two men. All of them were white. . . It didn't look good for me at all. . . The trial lasted three days. They deliberated for three-and-a-half hours. Once they had found me guilty of the charge, one lady wrote me, apologizing. She said I did not have a fair trial. A lot of people refused to participate on the jury. They walked out of the courtroom, because they saw that I wasn't going to get a fair trial. . .

What were you feeling at the trial?

Someone will hear my cry, and come to my rescue.  They'll allow me to take this test, and end all this.  The test is what I want.  The test will speak for itself, and nobody can change that. I saw myself as a human being, a citizen, who votes and everything. So the trial made me sick to my stomach. . . I expected to be fairly judged by the people or peers of my community. These people were not my peers. . . . I felt that I was going to be convicted. . . Because the jury was all white, I wasn't going to have a fair trial there. . . Everything was set up, from the time they picked me up, until the end of this. . . I stayed out for two years on a bond [which] they set so low, I could run. . . jump bail. . . The judge, the district attorney, all of them wanted me to run. . . Then they would have got me on something. . . They could put out a bulletin on me saying I'm armed and dangerous and shoot to kill. . . [But] I wouldn't run. Even if I knew I was coming to Angola, I wasn't going to run, because a guilty man runs. I didn't do this. I'm innocent.



At the time, though, there were no DNA tests to back up your claim.

They never took a blood test. They never checked me. They checked me for scratches, and they didn't find any. They checked my clothes. The man at the crime lab said he found semen. But a doctor from L.S.U., an expert, came in the court and said, "There was no semen found on Clyde's clothes. Nowhere". After they finished checking the clothes and stuff, they never checked me. . . I started asking for [a blood test] when I heard about this DNA testing. It was new down here in this area. I don't know why, but they didn't want to try it. I even wrote to the state police in Baton Rouge and inquired about the rape kit. That's the only reason that [the] crime lab had the rape kit. . . Every time I heard something new about DNA, I started writing. I wrote numerous letters, over 20 or 30 times.

Why don't you think anyone responded to your letters?

I don't know why people were denying me something that is 99% accurate. I went in front of the judge and told him, "I'm going to make it as plain as the nose on your face. If you give me this test, and it comes back sure that I did the crime, there's nothing left for me to do. I'm stuck in Angola for the rest of my life." He denied me the kkDNA testing.

So you decided to write even more letters?

I don't know why they refused me so many times. The DNA test was so accurate. It was something new, and I wanted the test done. I begged for this test. I'm still begging for this test to be done, because it's the only way I'm going to get out. They couldn't deny a test result, because that's solid, concrete evidence.



But they could continue to deny your requests?

I asked my lawyer why a modern-day court system won't use modern medical technology for me. He just hunched his shoulders up. Every time I ask them, and they say, "No," I say, "Why?" I can't believe this. It's just tearing my family up. But I never stop. I'm going to keep on asking. I hope that one day it could come about.

Why do you think it takes so many requests to get heard?

Maybe the state doesn't want to know. They sent me here for a natural life sentence, to die. They thought I was going to get content in here. They thought I would just stop fighting, lose all hope. But I didn't do that. I kept seeking, I kept asking, I kept writing. I am not guilty of this charge and conviction. . . They can't get around the concrete claims I filed. One lawyer told me that the court "passed the buck" on me. It's plain that they just don't want to hear it. It's like a hot potato. They just passed it down before their hands got burnt. . . All I want is a decent human being to review everything honestly and open, like they're supposed to have done from the beginning. . .

Are there times when you want to give up?

When I'm lying here in bed at night, I only can think about my family. I'll plan what I'll do the next day, to keep me going. A lot of dudes in here give up. They don't have the hope or zeal that I have to return to my family. People are in here 30-40 years, and they're frightened. They die of AIDS. They're dying of cirrhosis of the liver. . . Many times, I prayed for God to take my life.

What was your prayer?

I asked, "Why is an innocent man going through this?" If I'm on the level of a criminal, that means I act and conduct myself as a criminal. They look at us here like we're things, or like we're numbers. They talk crazy to you at times. They always keep you unbalanced about rules. You don't know what to expect day after day. If one inmate messes up, everybody is punished.



Do you imagine dying in this prison?

I can't imagine dying here, because I'm striving too hard. Someone will hear my cry, and come to my rescue. They'll allow me to take this test, and end all this. The test is what I want. The test will speak for itself, and nobody can change that. The blood will remain the same until I leave this earth.

Do you think you've forgotten what it's like to be free?

I'll never forget freedom. It'll be a glorious time when I do get free. I hope I can get everything restored to me. I want to be able to vote, and to vote for the right people. That's what we need. We need the right honest men for district attorney and judges. The politicians come to our barrooms, take our food and drink, and say, "We're going to lock up all the criminals, and throw away the keys." And here, they're talking about me. . . I know something's not right about this.

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