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How Hillary Clinton at age 27 came to defend an accused rapist in rural Arkansas has suddenly become a contested piece of history in a case otherwise decided 40 years ago.
In 1975, Thomas Alfred Taylor was charged with raping a 12-year-old girl in his pickup truck off a highway in Arkansas’ Washington County. Details of that night and the subsequent court proceedings were painstakingly reconstructed in 2008 by Glenn Thrush, then a reporter for Newsday and now with Politico.
While the girl willingly went for a ride with Taylor, she said she did not consent to sex and was later admitted to a hospital with injuries consistent with rape.
At his court hearing, Taylor asked for a woman to represent him. According to Thrush’s report, the county had just a “half-dozen” female attorneys available. A judge appointed Clinton, new to the South and looking to establish the University of Arkansas’ fledgling legal aid clinic, to the task.
Clinton mounted a vigorous defense that included discrediting the child victim’s story by writing in an affidavit that the girl was “emotionally unstable with a tendency to seek out older men” and had made “false accusations” in the past. The victim told Thrush in 2008 and the Daily Beast that Clinton made that up. But investigators in the case also found inconsistencies in the victim’s story, according to Thrush’s reporting.
Those details didn’t make it into Clinton’s memoir Living History or her recollections of the case in the newly released interview. She does note that the defendant passed a lie-detector test – “which forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs,” she said in the 1980s – and she said the prosecution botched one of the most important pieces of evidence, Taylor’s blood-stained underwear. She called it a “terrible case.”
Taylor, charged with first-degree rape, ultimately pleaded guilty to unlawful fondling of a minor. He died in 1992.
“A prosecutor called me years ago, and said that he had a guy who was accused of rape and the guy wanted a woman lawyer,” Clinton said. “Would I do it as a favor to him?”
Washington County prosecutor Mahlon Gibson “called to tell me an indigent prisoner accused of raping a twelve-year-old girl wanted a woman lawyer. Gibson had recommended that the criminal court judge, Maupin Cummings, appoint me. I told Mahlon I really don’t feel comfortable taking on such a client, but Mahlon gently reminded me that I couldn’t very well refuse the judge’s request.”