My hubby was jailed for mur­der­ing Mum – how a cig­gie proved his in­no­cence

When her hus­band was con­victed of her mum’s mur­der, Melinda Daw­son, 55, sought out the truth

that's life (Australia) - - Contents - As told to April Glover

Stand­ing in the kitchen, I took a big sip of cof­fee. It was early on a Sun­day morn­ing and I’d spent all night nurs­ing my son Bran­don, 12, who’d been feel­ing sick.

As my hus­band Clarence walked into the room, we sud­denly heard loud voices and the sound of hur­ried foot­steps com­ing from out­side.

‘Go take a look,’ I urged him, feel­ing wor­ried.

While Clarence headed to the drive­way, I craned my neck to look out the win­dow.

Shocked, I re­alised a dozen po­lice of­fi­cers had swarmed our front yard.

I opened the door to a boom­ing voice shout­ing ques­tions.

‘Is your name Melinda? Is your mother’s name Judy?’

‘What’s go­ing on? Is she okay?’ I pleaded.

The of­fi­cer gave me a look of pity.

‘I’m so sorry, she’s been mur­dered,’ he said.

I let out a blood-cur­dling scream. I’d only spo­ken to my beau­ti­ful mother, Judy, the day be­fore. She was 58.

Fall­ing to my knees, my vi­sion be­came clouded with hot tears.

But out of the cor­ner of my eye, I saw some­thing that just didn’t make sense.

A po­lice of­fi­cer was putting hand­cuffs on my hus­band.

‘What are you do­ing? Clarence?’ I stam­mered.

I barely had a mo­ment to regis­ter what was go­ing on be­fore he was shoved into the po­lice car and driven away.

This can’t be hap­pen­ing, I thought, shocked.

An­other of­fi­cer put his hand on my shoul­der as he tried to com­fort me.

‘What hap­pened to my mum?’ I howled.

I was told that the night be­fore, my poor mother had been sleep­ing on the liv­ing room couch when she was sav­agely raped, beaten and stran­gled to death.

Mum had been babysit­ting my lit­tle niece, Brooke, aged only six. She’d been raped too and left for dead.

Af­ter Brooke re­gained con­scious­ness in the morn­ing, she left a har­row­ing voice­mail for a fam­ily friend.

‘My grandma died and I need some­body to get my mum for me,’ she said. ‘I’m all alone. Some­body killed my grandma.’

By some mir­a­cle, she then man­aged to crawl next door and beg for help. As­ton­ish­ingly, the neigh­bour made the poor child wait for 45 min­utes while they fin­ished break­fast, be­fore tak­ing Brooke to her mum, April. When speak­ing to the po­lice, Brooke told of­fi­cers the in­truder ‘looked like un­cle Clarence’.

That was all the ev­i­dence they needed to swoop.

Head­ing back into the house, I called my un­cle.

‘Has Mum re­ally gone?’ I cried.

I couldn’t be­lieve any­one would hurt my sweet mother.

In the back­ground, my aunt was yelling about Clarence.

‘Don’t you dare bring him to our house,’ she warned.

I felt numb – surely they didn’t be­lieve my hus­band was a mur­derer?

A friend came over to look af­ter Bran­don and my other son, also called Clarence, 15, so I could go to the po­lice sta­tion.

Sit­ting in an in­ter­ro­ga­tion room, the of­fi­cers blasted me with ques­tions.

‘Do you know where your hus­band was last night?’ one asked me.

I knew ex­actly where Clarence was at the time of the mur­der – home with me.

‘There’s no way he was at my mum’s house,’ I said.

‘How do you know?’ the of­fi­cer asked, look­ing un­con­vinced.

‘Be­cause I was up all night with a sick child,’ I shot back.

The the­ory that Clarence could have driven 56km to kill my mother, rape my niece and make it home with­out me notic­ing was sim­ply im­pos­si­ble.

As well as try­ing to process the grief of los­ing Mum, I now had an­other bat­tle to fight.

‘He’s ab­so­lutely in­no­cent,’ I in­sisted.

That day, de­spite his al­ibi, Clarence was charged with mur­der. I was hor­ri­fied.

My hus­band, the father of my chil­dren – and the man I had been mar­ried to for 18 years – was not a mur­derer.

The next 12 months were ag­o­nis­ing. Clarence was kept in cus­tody the en­tire time.

When he ap­peared in court in 1999, he of course de­nied ev­ery­thing and the trial be­gan.

The main ev­i­dence was Brooke’s tes­ti­mony say­ing the man looked like un­cle Clarence.

Af­ter three weeks, when the jury filed back in to de­liver their ver­dict, the men looked at him with ha­tred and the women were cry­ing. I knew what was com­ing...

He was found guilty of mur­der, at­tempted mur­der, two counts of rape and as­sault, and sen­tenced to two terms of life-im­pris­on­ment.

‘They be­lieve the lit­tle girl,’ Clarence’s at­tor­ney shrugged.

It was like I was trapped in a liv­ing night­mare.

While I felt frus­trated, I couldn’t imag­ine how Clarence was feel­ing.

My seething anger and un­speak­able grief made for a lethal mix.

I just knew my hus­band was in­no­cent, and I needed to find my mother’s killer and the man who raped my niece. A mur­derer was on the loose and I was afraid he was com­ing for me.

My boys were des­per­ate to see their dad back home too.

At my mum’s grave­stone, I made a vow.

‘I prom­ise to find who did this,’ I told her.

The rest of my fam­ily, scarred by the crime, re­fused to talk to me.

They truly be­lieved Clarence was her killer.

As the months and years flew by, I slowly be­came es­tranged from my fam­ily.

But I tried to visit Clarence once a month.

And de­ter­mined, I started watch­ing ev­ery crime show.

I also con­tacted a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor, Martin Yant, who spe­cialised in wrong­ful con­vic­tions.

It was Martin who con­vinced me to try and rec­on­cile with my fam­ily.

‘Go visit your sis­ter,’ he urged.

Three years af­ter the trial, I turned up on April’s doorstep. Open­ing the door, she hugged me.

‘I’ve missed you,’ I laughed, through tears.

Brooke, who was now nine, had started to re­mem­ber bits and pieces of that aw­ful night.

She told the fam­ily she’d just said the man looked like her un­cle and at the time she was too young to cor­rect the grown-ups’ mis­take.

‘Un­cle Clarence has brown

eyes and the bad man had blue eyes,’ she said.

Work­ing with Martin, we whit­tled down other po­ten­tial sus­pects for the mur­der – rapists who were out on pa­role, lo­cals with crim­i­nal records and vi­o­lent neigh­bours.

I had trans­formed from a wife and a mother to a full-blown de­tec­tive.

Trav­el­ling to my mum’s neigh­bour­hood, I went to bars where known crim­i­nals would fre­quent, des­per­ate to coax con­fes­sions from them.

I pulled out strands of hair with­out them notic­ing and seized dis­carded beer bot­tles.

Rais­ing money on­line, I paid $25,000 for DNA test­ing to be done on ev­i­dence left at the crime scene.

The re­sults came back with a DNA match for an un­known male.

It wasn’t Clarence! A glim­mer of hope re­turned to me.

He had been lan­guish­ing be­hind bars for six years now, re­signed to the fact he would die in prison.

But I had other plans. Search­ing old news­pa­pers for clues and names, I came across a woman called

To­nia Brasiel. She was Mum’s neigh­bour who had made my blood-stained and bat­tered niece wait 45 min­utes on her front porch be­fore she got help.

I dis­cov­ered To­nia’s hus­band, a man named

Earl Mann, was a con­victed sex­ual preda­tor charged with rap­ing chil­dren.

And he’d been re­leased from prison the same month my mum was killed.

Hor­ri­fied, I re­alised I had my prime sus­pect.

Weeks later, by a stroke of luck, I learned Earl was back be­hind bars and be­ing trans­ferred to the same prison as Clarence.

So, I hatched a plan.

‘Does he smoke?’ I asked Clarence.

‘Yes,’ he replied, con­fused. ‘When he dis­cards the butt, keep it for me,’ I said.

One month later, Clarence care­fully watched Earl as he puffed on a cig­a­rette, be­fore scoop­ing the butt out of the ash­tray.

I couldn’t visit Clarence for two weeks, so he kept the tiny piece of ev­i­dence hid­den be­tween the pages of a Bible in his cell.

Fi­nally, I had what I needed. The DNA was a per­fect match for the pro­file left at the crime scene.

He’s the killer, I thought, re­lieved but ex­hausted.

The day af­ter Clarence got the sam­ple, Earl at­tacked an­other inmate with a lock in­side of a sock and was moved to an­other prison.

If Clarence hadn’t got that cig­a­rette butt when he did, he would never have had the chance to do it again.

My at­tor­ney sub­mit­ted the ev­i­dence and we pre­pared our­selves for an­other trial.

But a few months later, all charges against Clarence were dropped. They fi­nally ad­mit­ted he was in­no­cent.

On a cold night, I drove two hours to get to the prison where Clarence was be­ing held.

He walked into the lobby, look­ing puz­zled.

‘You’re com­ing home!’ I an­nounced, feel­ing al­most giddy with ex­cite­ment.

‘Oh my God… re­ally?’ he said in dis­be­lief.

That day, more than seven years af­ter he’d walked in, hand­cuffed and in chains, Clarence fi­nally walked out of prison, a free man.

My mother’s true killer, Earl Mann, 35, was for­mally charged with mur­der­ing Mum and the at­tempted mur­der and rape of Brooke.

In 2008, he pleaded guilty and was sen­tenced to 55 years be­hind bars.

As soon as jus­tice was served, my walls came down. I could fi­nally grieve for my mother – a gen­tle and beau­ti­ful woman who was taken from this world far too soon.

Af­ter Clarence walked free, our mar­riage broke down, but we re­mained friends.

I had spent so long fight­ing to prove his in­no­cence that I lost the abil­ity to be his wife.

I’ve since wed a lovely man, Patrick, 49, who I adore, and Clarence is hap­pily re­mar­ried too.

Now, 20 years on, I work in the US to stop ex­e­cu­tions.

As a pub­lic speaker and vic­tim ad­vo­cate, I help oth­ers to fight for jus­tice and to raise aware­ness of wrong­ful con­vic­tions.

I have never stopped think­ing about my mum.

Since day one, it has al­ways been about find­ing jus­tice for her.

I miss her so much it hurts, but I am so glad I fought hard – both to find her killer and to free an in­no­cent man.

I promised Mum I’d find her killer Lit­tle Brookeat the time of the at­tackA mur­derer was on the loose and I was afraid he was com­ing for me

My mum Judy and meBrooke with Clarence

Clarence and me on the day he was re­leased from jail

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