In the past week, various national media outlets have covered the story of a 1975 Hillary Clinton legal case in which she was required to defend an accused rapist. Unfortunately, part of Clinton’s involvement in this case has been completely mis-characterized by some and the national media outlets have so far missed a key fact of this story.
Some quick background on the case in question first. In 1975, Thomas Alfred Taylor, a 41-year-old factory worker, was accused of raping a 12-year old girl whose family he was friendly with at the time. This type of case can only be described as horrific.
After his arrest, Taylor could not afford to hire an attorney, but apparently demanded a female attorney represent him. Hillary Clinton was subsequently appointed by a Judge to represent Taylor.
A right-wing website, The Washington Free Beacon, recently uncovered an audio recording of Clinton discussing the case with reporter Roy Reed, taped back in the mid-1980s. In the audio recording, Clinton mentions off-hand, and understandably incorrectly, that she was called by the Prosecutor and asked to handle the case as a favor to him.
Some right-wing media outlets have seized on Hillary’s comment as a way to paint her as not being a true champion of women since she gladly agreed to represent a man accused of raping a 12-year girl as a “favor” to an attorney.
That is simply not true. Clinton was appointed by the court to handle the rape case and legally had to represent Taylor to the best of her ability, regardless of his guilt or innocence. I’ll prove her appointment in just a moment.
In regards to the audio recording, I believe Clinton just didn’t remember every aspect of the then-10 year old case when it came up during her mid-1980’s conversation with Reed, which is understandable. Clinton likely handled hundreds of legal cases in the ten years or so after the rape trial and, like most us, probably couldn’t remember every single aspect of a job done a decade prior.
In her 2003 book, “Living History,” Clinton discusses the rape case and noted that Judge Maupin Cummings appointed her to handle it. Obviously, Clinton took the time to research the case and fully refresh her memory when writing the book.
I’ve read various articles in the past few days about this 1975 case and noticed a big hole in all the coverage. The victim in the case spoke to the press last week, and she thankfully remains unnamed in all media accounts. Judge Cummings and Thomas Alfred Taylor are deceased and neither apparently spoke publicly on this case previously.
However, one person who has not been interviewed is then-Prosecuting Attorney Mahlon Gibson. Oddly enough, the best I can tell, no media outlet has taken the time to report Gibson’s account of this 1975 case.
Did Hillary Clinton take on this rape case as a favor to Gibson, thus making her seem heartless on women’s issues, or was she appointed, making her legally required to defend the accused rapist to the best of her ability? Gibson’s account of the case could have significant implications for Clinton’s potential Presidential run.
I interviewed Gibson on Tuesday via phone to get his recollection of this case. Gibson served as the Prosecuting Attorney for Washington County from 1968 to 1978 and then served as a Circuit Judge for twelve years.
Former Prosecuting Attorney Mahlon Gibson confirmed that not only was Hillary Clinton appointed to the case by the court, but that she didn’t want to handle this rape case in the first place.
“I’ve had one conversation in my life with Hillary Clinton that I can remember, and I think that’s the only one I ever had really… …He [Taylor] was accused of raping a 12-year old girl and he didn’t have funds to hire an attorney. The public defender was appointed to represent him and for some reason the public defender, I guess, wanted off or couldn’t handle it, I don’t know what the problem was there. But Judge Cummings relieved him and appointed Hillary. She was appointed to that case.”
Gibson was not privy to Taylor’s demand that he be represented by a female attorney. Gibson’s deputy at the time handled this particular case.
When asked, Gibson did say that in 1975 there were only about 3-4 female attorneys total in all of Washington County, thus making the chances of Hillary Clinton being appointed as the accused rapist’s attorney much greater.
Moreover, the Washington County Public Defender’s Office at the time only had one attorney. According to Gibson, it was common practice at the time in Washington County for judges to appoint attorneys to handle the cases of indigent prisoners who could not afford legal counsel.
The reason Gibson recalls his conversation with Clinton about the case is because she didn’t want to even handle it and wanted his advice or help to get out of it.
“She [Hillary] was appointed to the case and the reason I recalled that was, she either called me or I called her, I can’t recall who made the contact, and wanted to know how she could get off the case. She didn’t want to handle it. She said she didn’t like those kind of cases and those types of folks [Taylor] and ‘I just don’t want to get involved with this thing and can you get me released from it?’ I said ‘Hillary, I can’t get you off the case, I didn’t appoint you, you have to talk to Judge Cummings.'”
Judge Cummings obviously didn’t release Clinton from the case. Once appointed though, the then-27 year old Hillary Clinton did her job and was an aggressive advocate for her client. Some of Clinton’s political opponents have attacked her for fulfilling her legal oath and having the audacity to actually represent a client to the best of her ability.
A plea agreement was reached after Clinton successfully cast doubt on evidentiary evidence against Taylor. Taylor ultimately received four years of probation and a year in county jail, with two months taken off for time he had already served.
If Taylor was definitely, or even just possibly guilty, why did Clinton work to get Taylor less jail time? The Prosecutor, whose office was on the other side of this case against Clinton, said it best:
“She [Hillary] had a legal and ethical obligation to do the very best she could do for her client, appointed or not appointed.”
Gibson recalled that soon after this case, Hillary Clinton helped create a rape crisis hot line for the area. Hillary Clinton also mentions this fact in her 2003 book.
With former Prosecutor Mahlon Gibson now on record about this 1975 rape case, all future retelling of this time in Hillary Clinton’s career must note that she was appointed by a court to handle this tough case. It’s an indisputable fact.