What happened that night and what happened in court

The offense took place on May 10, 1975 in Springdale, Washington County, Arkansas. The victim, Kathy Shelton, was 12 years old.

The defendant was Thomas Alfred Taylor. He was 41 at the time of the offense; he turned 42 not long before his sentencing.

There appears to be no dispute that Shelton was acquainted with Taylor prior to the offense.

My primary source where the details are concerned is a 2008 article written by Glenn Thrush, then with Newsday and now with Politico. Here’s a link to the (supposedly) printer-friendly version.  (This format is easier to read on a smartphone.)


Other sources include the court records (microfilmed papers and microfilmed docket entries), a taped conversation Clinton had with a reporter about the case some years later, and an item about the arrests that appeared in the Northwest Arkansas Times on May 14, 1975. I also reviewed the brief discussion of the case in Clinton’s 2003 book, Living History.

This is the audio of the conversation (6 minutes, 7 seconds):


This is the news account:


Thrush’s account was an exercise in reconstruction. He obtained the case file from the Washington County Sheriff’s office pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. He interviewed retired Sergeant Dale Gibson, who had been the lead investigator in the case. (Gibson, who died in 2015, was not related to Mahlon Gibson, then the Washington County Prosecuting Attorney.)

Additionally, Thrush interviewed another male charged in the incident; this man had been 15 years old at the time. Thrush also interviewed Shelton.

May 9, 1975 was a Friday. Shelton went to a sleepover at a friend’s house. Some time after midnight, Thomas Taylor showed up at the house with his 20 year old cousin. They invited Shelton to go for a ride. She accepted, joining them in Taylor’s pickup truck. They later picked up a 15 year old boy that Shelton knew. The group went bowling. Taylor bought a pint of whiskey and poured some into Shelton’s Coke.

Somewhere around 4:00 am (this is the time stated in the court papers), Taylor stopped the truck in a ravine near a highway intersection. Taylor and his cousin went for a walk, and the juvenile had intercourse with Shelton in the cab of the pickup.

The juvenile exited the vehicle. Taylor entered and got on top of Shelton. The juvenile heard Shelton scream and saw Taylor hitching up his pants. According to him, Shelton then yelled “You all planned this, didn’t you?” They warned her against telling anyone what happened.

Shelton, accompanied by her mother, walked into a hospital emergency room at 4:50 am. The examination confirmed that she had had intercourse.

Taylor and his cousin were taken into custody at 6:30 am; the juvenile was arrested the following evening. The juvenile admitted having intercourse with Shelton. Taylor, however, claimed that he had driven all the passengers home that night without stopping in the ravine.

Taylor’s undershorts were seized; they were stained. They were ultimately sent to the crime laboratory, and tests confirmed the presence of blood and semen.

No formal charges were filed against the cousin, and he was released.

Taylor and the juvenile were charged with first degree rape. (Forcible rape, at that time, was called first degree rape in Arkansas. The former phrase may seem redundant, but is used to distinguish the offense from statutory rape.)

The probable cause affidavit stated that Shelton had told the investigator that Taylor had raped her, that Shelton had provided the names of two witnesses, that one of those witnesses had acknowledged overhearing Taylor having sexual relations with Shelton, and that a doctor’s examination had confirmed that she had had sexual relations consistent with the time frame stated.

What happened in the juvenile proceedings is not public knowledge; those records are sealed. Clinton did not, by any account other than that of Shelton, represent the juvenile.

She was, however, appointed to represent Taylor. He had originally been assigned a public defender, but demanded a female attorney.

She filed a motion to reduce his bail, with the result that he was released some two months after his arrest.

She filed an assortment of pretrial motions, most notably one for a psychiatric examination of the victim. Her supporting affidavit stated:

I have been informed that the complainant is emotionally unstable with a tendency to seek out older men and to engage in fantasizing. I have also been informed that she has in the past made false accusations about persons, claiming they had attacked her body. Also that she exhibits an unusual stubbornness and temper when she does not get her way.

I have also been told by an expert in child psychology that children in early adolescence tend to exaggerate or romanticize sexual experiences and that adolescents with disorganized families, such as the complainant’s, are even more prone to such behavior.

The docket entry denying that motion reads “Hearing on Motion for Psychiatric Examination — Motion denied. Defendant objects.”

Shelton did not become aware of the affidavit until 2008.

Clinton asked for a list of prosecution witnesses. The list included Berwyn L. Monroe, the state toxicologist, who was prepared to testify about the tests performed on the undershorts, and Dr. Frank DeSandre, an obstetrician/gynecologist. Presumably, Dr. DeSandre was the physician referred to in the probable cause affidavit.

Clinton also pressed for an independent examination of the undershorts. The crime lab had cut out the stained portion and discarded it after testing it; what was left was turned over to her. She took the undershorts to Brooklyn, where she consulted a renowned serology expert; he advised her that the slight trace of a stain that remained was too small a specimen to test.

She never sought to exclude any forensic evidence, nor would the discarding of the tested portion of the undershorts have been grounds for an order doing so. This mistake was something about which to cross-examine the toxicologist had the case gone to trial, and something about which to argue to a jury.

On the prosecution side, the victim was exasperated after being asked the same questions over and over. Her mother’s husband had recently deserted their home. Her mother wanted to avoid the humiliation of a trial. She coached her daughter’s statements and interrupted interviews.  Mother and daughter both wanted an ending to the proceedings.

That ending came in the form of a plea bargain.

On November 4, 1975 Taylor pled guilty to unlawful fondling of a child under 14 and was sentenced to five years, with the last four years suspended and the first year to be spent in the county jail. He was given two months credit for time served and was allowed work release. He was released from jail before the summer of 1976. He completed his probation term and was discharged on November 4, 1980. He relocated to Missouri and died in 1992. Thrush found no record of any serious subsequent charge.

Shelton told Thrush that Clinton was “just doing her job” and that “Everybody has the right to be represented in court.”  That assessment changed.

In 2014, Alana Goodman, writing for the Free Beacon, discovered tapes of interviews Clinton had given to Arkansas reporter Roy Reed in the early eighties. There was an excerpt in which Clinton discussed the Taylor case, although Taylor was not mentioned by name. Clinton did not, as widely reported, state that she knew he was guilty, but she did (improperly) express her personal opinion that his claim of innocence was false. She discussed the crime lab’s error in discarding of the stained portion of the undershorts, her consultation with the Brooklyn expert, and her successful effort to get the charge reduced. She laughed several times during the conversation.

Goodman talked to Shelton briefly after the discovery of the tapes, but Shelton declined an interview:


The article was followed by a link to the “full case file.”  I previously posted that link.

Not long afterwards, Josh Rogin, then with The Daily Beast and now with the Washington Post, interviewed Shelton. She told him her memories of the proceedings were spotty. She also said “Hillary Clinton took me through hell.”

She recounted identifying both males through a one-way glass and passing a polygraph test. Here ‘s Rogin’s Daily Beast account:


In August 2016, Shelton granted an interview to Goodman. By this time Goodman was working for the Daily Mail, a British publication. Shelton’s name was disclosed for the first time:


The vilification of Clinton intensified.

There are three things I will discuss in more detail in later posts: the affidavit about the victim, the Brooklyn consultation, and the taped interview. While Shelton saw the court process in a different light after learning about the affidavit and the tape many years afterwards, neither of these things affected her actual court experience.

The question the critics ignore is this: how was Kathy Shelton’s court experience different from what it would have been had some attorney other than Clinton represented Taylor?

The best possible court outcome for the victim of a sexual assault is for the defendant to plead guilty to an unreduced charge and throw himself upon the mercy of the court. However, the decision whether to plead or to go to trial is solely that of the defendant. No attorney can compel a client to plead guilty.

From the court records and from Rogin’s account, it does not appear that Shelton ever testified or even saw the inside of a courtroom. According to Rogin, she did not recall ever meeting Clinton. She thought Taylor had gotten a long-term sentence.

While Thrush reports that the judge who took the plea questioned Shelton in court, I believe this is an error. A judge taking a plea is required to determine whether there is a factual basis for that plea, but this entails questioning the defendant, not the victim or any other witness.

Here’s what Shelton has had to say about what happened in court in 1975:

I mean, she put me through a lot at 12 years old. I mean, I had to go look through this window and ID these guys. [This is from the video that accompanied the Daily Mail article.]

Identification procedures normally take place in the very early stages of a prosecution. Any such procedure here would most likely have taken place before Clinton’s entry into the case, and a defendant has no ability to compel a lineup or showup.

And I think she got them both off on a technicality of losing something. And she lost it on purpose. It wasn’t lost. [Daily Mail video.]

Defense attorneys are not the custodians of the prosecution’s evidence. The only evidence that was “lost” was the portion of the undershorts that the crime lab discarded after testing.

There was no pretrial order that excluded evidence or otherwise handicapped the prosecution. There was no “technicality”, there was a plea bargain. An issue with Taylor’s undershorts would not have affected the juvenile proceedings. Clinton did not, in any event, represent the juvenile.

Clinton was able to block the admission of forensic evidence that linked her client to the crime. [Goodman’s words in the Daily Mail article.]

There are two ways in which attorneys seek to block forensic evidence that they do not want admitted at trial. One way is to file a pretrial motion asking the court to exclude the evidence. That did not happen here. The other way is to object to the admission of the evidence at trial. This case did not go to trial.

Shelton said one of her worst memories of the case was being questioned repeatedly by appointed experts. [Goodman again.]

The court record does not show the appointment of any experts, and how many times a victim or other prosecution witness is interviewed is up to the prosecution.

After the Daily Mail story broke, an Oregon woman named Angie Welk set up a GoFundMe page for Shelton:


The page includes what appears to be a first-person account by Shelton. (This may be an as-told-to account.) It states:

Hillary then began to attack my character, forcing me to undergo multiple polygraph tests where I was asked explicit sexual questions I didn’t even understand. Next I was sent for a psychiatric examination.

UPDATE:  What I quote above was scrubbed from the GoFundMe page after the Washington Post published an article on October 11, 2016 refuting the claims about the evaluation and the polygraph. Fortunately, the reporter (Glenn Kessler) had done a screen capture. Here’s his account:


It is up to the prosecution whether to ask a victim or any other witness to undergo a polygraph examination; a defendant has nothing to say about whether such an inquiry takes place. And, any psychiatric examination would have been arranged by the prosecution.

Given all of this, I see no basis for believing that Hillary made Shelton’s court experience any more difficult than it would have been with another defense attorney.

That still leaves the question, however, of whether Hillary’s handling of the matter reflects on her present character. She obviously should not have made the disclosures that she made on the tape, but that lapse occurred some 30 years ago.

Enough for now. Next topic is the affidavit.


About Norma Chase

Lawyer in private practice. Practice emphasizes family law and appellate work.
This entry was posted in Kathy Shelton, Thomas Alfred Taylor, Tommy Taylor and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What happened that night and what happened in court

  1. As a journalist, I know that I am legally unable to libel a dead person. Is it different for an attorney? Is an attorney legally obligated to continue to represent a client after his death? I ask because Taylor died in 1992, yet you write “Clinton did not, as widely reported, state that she knew he was guilty, but she did (improperly) express her personal opinion that his claim of innocence was false.

    Why is it improper? Are lawyers obligated to take their opinions of their cases to their own graves?

  2. Norma Chase says:

    Taylor was still living when Clinton gave that interview.

    Duty of confidentiality continues after representation terminates. If the client has died, the attorney may make disclosures of which he or she believes the client would approve.

    So yes, we do sometimes have to take these things to our graves, at least in theory. In the real world, we may not. Sometimes enough time has passed that nobody cares, and sometimes sensitive matter has become general knowledge. Many lawyers confide in people they trust, including people who are not under any legal duty of confidentiality to either them or the client.

  3. searching.. says:

    Thank you so much for these posts. You’ve done excellent work here. I have one question; I’ve seen over and over again statements about the victim spending 5 days in a coma because she was beaten so severely. I have found nothing corroborating that and partially assume that’s false since it is known that the victim walked herself into the emergency room. Have you found anything in your research about this? Thank you.

    • Norma Chase says:

      There is nothing to substantiate Shelton’s coma claim. The court file tends to contradict it.

      When a victim suffers serious physical injury in addition to the rape, the defendant is normally charged with aggravated assault and possibly attempted murder as well as rape. No charge other than rape was brought in this case.

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