Victim finally faces rapist

22-year sentence for 1980s crimes

September 29, 2005|By LISA GOLDBERG | LISA GOLDBERG,SUN REPORTER

Letitia Davis measured her words as she faced her attacker in court - nearly 20 years after a brutal rape shattered her sense of security.

One of five victims of convicted rapist Thaddeus Sylvester Clemons in the 1980s, she has been serving a "life sentence" ever since, she said - one marked by "fear, terror, nightmares, memories."

"I implore you to ensure he no longer has an opportunity to inflict this on another being," she told Baltimore County Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz yesterday.

There was so much more she could have said, she would explain later, after Levitz had sentenced Clemons to 22 years in prison and the graying, 54-year-old man had been led from the courtroom in shackles.

She could have talked about the years of freedom Clemons enjoyed while the half-dozen cases against him languished for want of a viable suspect.

She could have talked about how he seemed to have no remorse for the pain he had inflicted.

She said it took her five years to muster the courage to walk more than a short distance outside alone at night after the Nov. 13, 1985, assault.

"In the shower this morning, I thought about the first shower I got to take after I was raped, and how it just wasn't enough," Davis, 56, said in an interview yesterday after the sentencing.

She added: "It was a good day, watching him go out with those chains on his feet."

The Sun does not identify victims of sexual abuse, but Davis and another of Clemons' victims, Sherry White, 36, agreed to the use of their names.

"It wasn't my fault," said Davis.

The two were among three of Clemons' victims who attended the sentencing. Only Davis spoke in court.

White, now a cosmetologist from Fullerton, said afterward that finally seeing her attacker's face was helpful.

"This guy affected my life, and I didn't have a face to it," White, who was 17 when she was assaulted, said. "I had to know what he looked like."

Clemons could have been sentenced to five life terms for the crimes, which included five rapes in the Catonsville and Arbutus areas between October 1985 and July 1988. He also was accused of the attempted kidnapping of a teenaged girl who managed to escape.

Clemons pleaded guilty last month to 17 charges in the six cases, including five counts of first-degree rape and multiple counts each of kidnapping and armed robbery.

Levitz said yesterday that he agreed to a sentence of life in prison with all but 22 years suspended, with five years' probation if released, in part because of the inherent challenges in proving all but one of the cases.

Last year, detectives were able to link Clemons, who prosecutors said was convicted of sexual child abuse in 1990, to the March 1987 rape of an 18-year-old woman through a DNA match.

The other five were tied to that case because of similarities in the way the attacks were committed - including the fact that the rapist forced all of his victims to wear dark sunglasses, either wraparound or with side lenses, a detail that led authorities to dub him the "Sunglass Rapist."

Those cases were not "slam dunks," Levitz said. Plus, Clemons apparently suffers from serious health problems, Levitz said.

Clemons' attorneys said yesterday that he had open-heart surgery that forced him to retire from a job at General Electric, and that a mass on his liver has been diagnosed.

"It's my hope that [the victims] can take some comfort in the fact that their rapist is, in all probability, going to spend the rest of his life in a position where he can't hurt anyone else," the judge said.

Gary Schenker, one of Clemons' attorneys, said that in some of the cases, victims picked someone other than Clemons out of a police lineup or could not identify anyone.

"This is a very equitable sentence," he said.

Both Davis and White said yesterday that they were bothered by statements made by one of the defense attorneys that the age of the case should be a factor in the sentencing. For them, Clemons' actions have had a life-long effect that continues to this day, they said.

White, who was waiting for a bus when she was accosted by a knife-wielding man in October 1985, said she began drinking heavily and frequently got into trouble after the assault. If she drank, she said, she'd remember less about what happened.

"We've been looking over our shoulder for 20 years," she said.

Davis, the eldest of the victims, said that learning of Clemons' arrest this year dredged up the whole experience. Still, she said, she hasn't let the rape wreck her life.

Now a high school math teacher who lives near Hanover, Pa., Davis said she recently began giving talks about her experience to classes at her school. She asked that the school not be identified.

Four students have come to her to tell her their experiences, she said. Others have cried or hugged her after hearing her tale.

"They need to see that something can happen to you and you can still come out a strong, successful person," she said.

lisa.goldberg@baltsun.com

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