Exonerated man sues Detroit after rape kit from 20 years ago connects him to crime he didn’t commit

James Chad-Lewis Clay sentenced to 25-50 years

DETROIT – Results from a rape kit tested 20 years after the assault resulted in an innocent man being sentenced to prison. Now, that man is suing the city of Detroit and the Detroit Police Department.

James Chad-Lewis Clay was sentenced to 25-50 years behind bars in connection with a rape kit that was tested in 2017 and matched him to a crime he didn’t commit.

“They sent me to prison for a charge that will get you killed in prison,” Clay said.

When Clay was 16, he and his 15-year-old girlfriend used to skip school and party at a house near Detroit’s Finney High School. Someone dragged the girlfriend into an alley and raped her, but it wasn’t Clay.

The rape kit sat on a shelf for two decades. When it was finally tested, Clay was matched to it, but he and the girlfriend both said they had consensual sex.

The girlfriend wrote a letter to prosecutors saying Clay didn’t rape her.

Clay was released from prison earlier this year after spending two years behind bars, and the Detroit City Council apologized for his wrongful conviction, but that wasn’t enough. The lawsuit seeks damages, more than $81,000, under Michigan law for exonerated prisoners.

The lawsuit also claims Detroit police were wrong for not testing the rape kit in a timely matter and not doing a thorough investigation when it was tested.

“This is just a completely predictable collateral damage of what happens when you let rape kits go untested for decades,” said Wolfgang Mueller, Clay’s attorney.

About the Authors: