Complexities Cloud Marital Rape Case; William Hetherington Has Spent Nine Years in a Michigan Prison, but Proclaims His Innocence

By Young, Cathy | Insight on the News, August 1, 1994 | Go to article overview

Complexities Cloud Marital Rape Case; William Hetherington Has Spent Nine Years in a Michigan Prison, but Proclaims His Innocence


Young, Cathy, Insight on the News


William Hetherington has spent nine years in a Michigan prison, but proclaims his innocence. He was convicted of raping his wife, a charge which can lend itself to the same ambiguities as molestation: Both can come down to one person's word against another and both can be weapons in divorce or child custody battles.

The issue of spousal rape came dramatically to the forefront last summer when Lorena Bobbitt mutilated her husband after he allegedly raped her. Both were eventually acquitted, he of sexual assault and she of malicious wounding. At the time, many experts noted that spousal rape was notoriously difficult to prove and that convictions on such a charge were extremely rare.

But William Hetherington has a different perspective on the issue. For the past nine years, the former autoworker has resided in a Michigan prison for raping his estranged wife -- a crime Hetherington, 40, staunchly denies committing. Years after the trial, the case continues to stir strong emotions among those who see him as a victim of political machinations and those who regard his conviction as a victory for abused women. As Hetherington readies his appeal this year, those passions are likely to be reignited.

Even for a controversial criminal case, this one is unusually complex. Beyond the obvious question of guilt or innocence, there is the question of whether Hetherington's civil rights were violated by a court that did not recognize him as indigent -- even though he apparently had no access to his assets -- effectively denying him the chance to appeal. There also is the severity of his 15- to 30-yea -- far in excess of Michigan's sentencing guidelines and striking in view of the fact that Hetherington had been offered immediate release after spending about 14 months in jail in exchange for a no-contest plea. And, finally, there is the question of whether Hetherington became a pawn in the political games of an ambitious prosecutor and a judge, both eager to make an example out of the first man in Genesee County, Mich., to be tried for marital rape.

William Hetherington and Linda Carey married in 1971. Both were 18, and Linda was eight months pregnant. By 1985, they had three daughters: Rachel, 11-year-old Crystal and Michelle, 2. By all accounts, it wasn't a very happy marriage; there were mutual infidelities, mutual allegations of substance abuse and William twice filed assault complaints against Linda. In 1978, he filed for divorce, seeking sole custody of the children and child support.

The couple soon reconciled -- but not before Linda accused him of rape under a four-year-old state law allowing charges of rape between spouses living separately. William was arrested and released the next day; Linda did not pursue the charges. It was the first of several times that Linda would accuse her husband of raping her -- at times when bringing charges was to her advantage.

Divorce proceedings were started again in May 1985 after Linda took off to Florida without warning (according to the divorce papers, she failed even to contact Michelle's baby-sitter and called home only to leave a message for William to pick up their car at her workplace). After she returned in June, they had what William says was consensual sex, but a month later she accused him of rape. He was arrested and was in jail on Aug. 16, when the custody hearing was held. Custody of the children and possession of the home went to Linda, though the judge stated that William would have been given custody had he not been incarcerated and could reapply once he was free.

On Aug. 26, the rape charge was dismissed and William was released from jail. He applied for custody and a hearing was set for Oct. 7. But on Sept. 24, he again was arrested on a charge of spousal rape.

That day, Linda had come to the house of William's mother, Oma Warden, to pick up Michelle. William was living there at the time. She later claimed that she had no idea William was home. …

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