tagReviews & EssaysHetherington: Rapist or Scapegoat?

Hetherington: Rapist or Scapegoat?


As some of my readers already know, I've put up three previous blogs about the case of William Hetherington, a Michigan man who has served more than 20 years in prison because he was convicted -- on questionable evidence -- of raping his wife while they were separated. I began researching the case after being repeatedly urged to do so by one of my blog's readers.

In this blog, I wish to relate more about the accusation and the evidence in the Hetherington case.

According to "Complexities cloud marital rape case" by Cathy Young, the August 1, 1994 Insight on the News cover story, William and Linda Carey were wed in 1971. Both were 18 and Linda was eight months pregnant. The marriage produced three daughters by 1985. It also produced more than its share of bickering and fights with infidelities on both sides. William twice filed complaints with the police in which he accused Linda of physically assaulting him.

In May 1985, William filed for divorce. He also filed for custody of their three children. Linda had left for Florida.

After her return in June 1985, the couple had sex at the home of William's mother, Oma Warden, where he was then residing. The circumstances of that sex are disputed. William claims he responded to Linda's overtures. Linda described it as something else entirely.

Quoting from Young's article, Linda reported: "When [Linda] came in [the house], an agitated Warden asked her to look at a large amount of cash and drugs she had just found in William's bedroom. The moment Linda walked into the room, she was grabbed from behind by William, who was wearing a pair of white utility gloves. He shouted, 'You've had it now, bitch!' Warden hastily left the house with Michelle [one of the Hetherington daughters] while Linda struggled with William; he pinned her down and forced her to perform oral sex. He flicked a cigarette lighter around her head and crammed it in her mouth as he threatened to set her on fire and chop her to pieces. He undressed, pulled her clothes off and raped her. He forced a small rubber ball in her mouth and tied packaging tape around her head. He made her get dressed, tied her hands with tape and her legs with two leather belts, led her out of the house and forced her into his car, telling her she was about to 'meet her maker.' She managed to sound the horn with her feet in an attempt to attract attention. He then dragged her back to the house and made her undress, cutting off the sleeves of her shirt (which were taped together) so he could get it off, and forced her into the bathtub."

The above certainly sounds to me like a violent attack. While it would not have been prosecutable as rape in the old days before there was a legal concept called "spousal rape," it would definitely have been prosecutable as assault.

It also seems like there should be solid evidence supporting Linda's story. However, the doctor who examined Linda about three hours after she had supposedly been attacked said her vagina showed none of the injuries typically associated with forced penetration. The physician called this "very unusual." It also sounds very curious.

Where were the tape and gloves Linda said had been used in the assault? Investigators did not find either tape or gloves. Linda claimed they had been flushed down the toilet. A sleeve that she said he had cut off from her shirt during the attack was found and produced in court. Young continues, "while a pair of scissors similar to the ones Linda claimed William had used to cut the packaging tape around her face was found in the bathroom, no traces of adhesive were found on them." Two police officers testified that they had seen what appeared to be tape marks on her face.

Prosecutor Robert Weiss, who was running for a judgeship, made statements that smack of grandstanding. He theatrically declared that "murder may have been less harmful" than this attack. He appeared to urge the court to make an example out of William Hetherington to "let the women of the world know this is not tolerated." Although William Hetherington had no criminal record and Michigan's sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of one to ten years, Weiss pushed for a sentence of 30 to 60 years. The judge did not go quite that far but sentenced William Hetherington to the still extremely long sentence of 15 to 30 years. The judge gave as a reason for the lengthy sentence that "there's something about you that disturbs me."

The issue of the tape came up again ten years after William's conviction. An attorney obtained copies of photographs taken of Linda immediately after she claimed her estranged husband had assaulted her. Forensic photographer John Valor, who testified for the prosecution in the trial of the notorious serial murderer Ted Bundy, examined these photographs. He gave a sworn statement saying that the pictures showed none of the discolorations that should have been detectable if packaging tape had recently been on her face.

A piece of evidence surfaced giving a motive for Linda to falsely accuse her estranged husband. Melissa Ann Suchy worked as a babysitter for Linda Hetherington, caring for her grandchildren. Suchy wrote a letter in which she claimed that Linda Hetherington confided to falsely accusing William because Linda was pregnant by a boyfriend who said he would not help her with the baby unless she made certain William was out of the picture. Suchy claimed that Linda Hetherington said the boyfriend urged her to press charges and she did so to please him and salvage their relationship.

In all honesty, I do not know what happened in the William Hetherington case. Let's assume for a minute that his wife told the truth and that the jury correctly found him guilty. He had no criminal record. The marriage had been a volatile one with many ups and downs and wrongs on both sides. Thus, his attack on her would have been an explosion of rage from a man not usually prone to violence -- deplorable and inexcusable but not something warranting a sentence of 30 years. A reasonable judge would have meted out a sentence along that suggested by the sentencing guidelines. Indeed, I believe a reasonable judge would have given a man without a criminal record a sentence toward the low end of that advised by those guidelines.

But the judge did not. Instead, he gave William Hetherington a sentence longer than that served by many defendants for murder.

Perhaps the sentence was indeed prompted by the prosecutor's grandstanding, a grandstanding that may have been spurred because he was running for office. After all, he indicated that this assault was worse than murder. This is an assertion that flies in the face of reason. Linda Hetherington would have been traumatized by the attack but her life was far from over.

It may have been that the sentence was an attempt to "let the women of the world know this is not tolerated." However, a more reasonable sentence, one that did not sacrifice over a decade of a man's life, would have sent that message just fine.

Tragically, this desire to send a message letting women know attacks on us are not tolerated may have been the reason for the conviction itself in which case William Hetherington has been made a scapegoat for the supposed crimes of other men.

In either case, William Hetherington has been imprisoned for far, far too long. I urge my readers to write to the major news outlets and programs covering human interest stories about this case in the hopes that more publicity may help free Mr. Hetherington.

For anyone who has not already written to the parole board on his behalf, I am again giving the information they need to do so. Your letters should be polite, respectful, and include mention of his prison number, 186155.

The parole board can be contacted at the following address.
Michigan Parole Board
c/o Executive Secretary
PO Box 30003
Lansing, MI 48909

Mr. Hetherington has asked that those who write to the parole board mail a copy of their letters to him. His address follows.

William J. Hetherington #186155
1790 E. Parnall Rd.
Jackson, MI 49201-7139

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