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Judge throws out 1974 rape conviction; Tyrone Clark, who has spent decades in prison, will now go free

Judge Roach: “Justice may not have been done”

Tyrone Clark, who was wrongfully convicted of rape and spent 47 years in prison, will now go free.GoFundMe

Tyrone Clark, who has spent nearly half a century in prison for a rape he says he didn’t commit, was expected to be freed on Wednesday after a judge vacated his 1974 conviction.

Clark’s lawyer, Jeffrey Harris, said he was picking him up from North Central Correctional Institute in Gardner Wednesday afternoon.

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Christine Roach called Clark’s “one of the rare cases and exceptional situations” where “justice may not have been done and finality must yield.”

Clark had filed previous motions for a new trial, but this time he had the support of Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins.


“This case came to my office’s attention after the victim, unsolicited, raised serious doubts about her identification of the defendant,” Rollins said in a statement. “When we began looking further into the case, we learned that nearly half a century ago, the Commonwealth lost or destroyed evidence that had the potential” to prove Clark’s innocence.

“The Commonwealth should never benefit from our failures and wrongdoings,” Rollins said.

Rollins pointed out that the judge’s order did not affect Clark’s other convictions in connection with the 1973 incident, including unarmed robbery and kidnapping. Those convictions, she said, were based on evidence and testimony apart from the lost evidence.

“If we discover that the Commonwealth did not meet the high standard required of us, we must always act in the interests of justice. That is exactly what we did here,” Rollins said.

Clark, now 66, was 18 when a 23-year-old woman identified him from a police photo array as the man who forced his way into her Back Bay apartment on an afternoon in June 1973 and raped her at knifepoint. He was convicted of rape, robbery, and kidnapping, and was sentenced to life in prison.

But in a 2019 letter to the state Parole Board, the woman wrote that “I am no longer absolutely sure that my identification was correct.”


In a September interview, Rollins said that her office’s Integrity Review Bureau reviewed the letter and details of the case and found that the state no longer had forensic evidence that should have been preserved and could have helped Clark prove his innocence.

“This was all based on eyewitness testimony, which the witness has now recanted,” Rollins said. “Back in 1973, eyewitness testimony was the gold standard. Now we know that it isn’t.”

Roach said the victim’s uncertainty was not the main reason she decided to grant Clark’s third motion for a new trial. In fact, Roach said she credited the victim’s original identification of Clark more than her recent uncertainty.

“The essential injustice argued here is that no forensic evidence (other than a knife handle) has ever been preserved from which Clark could have attempted to prove his innocence,” she wrote. The Boston Police Department has unable to find the case file or any evidence.

“It is regrettable that this analysis was not fully developed and presented to a trial court sooner,” Roach wrote.

The Integrity Review Bureau, launched in 2019, has been asked to review more than 100 cases and has taken action in 10 cases besides Clark’s, Rollins said.

“We are not afraid in this administration to look back and see if we got it right or wrong,” she said.

With Clark’s case, Rollins said “something seemed like it was off” because he was sentenced to life, with the possibility of parole, an unusual sentence for a nonfatal offense.


Rollins said her office has reviewed many cases involving people who believe they were wronged or falsely accused and often concluded that no error was made.

“There have been a handful where we have said, ‘We don’t believe justice was done,’ and we have appropriately brought this to the court’s attention,” she said.

Clark was in prison from his arrest in 1973 until he was paroled in 2005. Fourteen months later, his parole was revoked for stealing $400 worth of clothing, and he has been in prison since then, Harris told the Globe earlier this year.

Last year, Harris filed a motion seeking a new trial for Clark, citing evidence that DNA testing on a knife used by the rapist indicated that person’s genetic profile didn’t match Clark’s. Prosecutors challenged the reliability of that evidence, and other forensic evidence, including semen collected from the victim, was no longer available.

“I see an opportunity for justice and I hope it will prevail,” Harris said.

The victim was raped in her apartment, beaten, and then taken to Roxbury by her attacker, according to parole board records. She fled to a fire station, where a number of firefighters briefly glimpsed the suspect. Four of them identified Clark from a photo array.

“How extraordinary this victim is, that they survived through this horrific, traumatic, violent act, have thrived, and now have written this letter that they are questioning their identification,” Rollins said. “It speaks so much about the character of this person. Many people might not have done that.”


The victim told GBH News that she was concerned that she may have misidentified Clark. The victim is white and Clark is Black. She said she knew few Black people at the time of her attack.

Clark’s convictions were affirmed in 1975 and again in 2000 after he filed his first motion for a new trial. A second motion for a new trial was denied by Judge Roach in 2020.

Harris has set up a gofundme page to help Clark pay for “everyday things: rent, clothes, food and housing.”

Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.