Length of Sentence:
Life without parole
Causes of Wrongful Conviction:
Junk science (microscopic hair comparison), False testimony, ineffective assistance of counsel
On February 5, 1982 an US Army officer’s young son was found dead at the Schofield Army base. The victim’s body was found in an underground bunker by an army Specialist, Thomas Spindle. Due to the fact that he discovered the victim’s body, Spindle was interviewed by US Army Investigators and provided 3 other soldiers as his alibi witnesses - Joseph Courtney, Duane Reynolds, and Clifford Hubbard. Though Clifford and Spindle were stationed at the same base, there was no evidence that Clifford knew of or ever hung out with Spindle prior to trial. The only physical evidence at the crime scene analyzed at the time, was a palm print found near the victim’s body. This palm print was identified as belonging to another soldier, Joseph Hanson, who was a good friend of Spindle’s alibi witness Joseph Courtney. When questioned by investigators, Courtney admitted to being at the scene of the crime, but told 6 different versions of what he claimed happened. During one of these stories, Courtney placed Clifford at the crime scene.
Despite any physical evidence linking either Clifford or Spindle to the crime, and relying solely on the numerous inconsistent statements of Courtney, both Clifford and Spindle were charged. Prior to the start of trial, Courtney and Hansen both went AWOL and never appeared at trial. In spite of their absence, the Government proceeded with trial and allowed Courtney’s testimony during his Article 32 hearing to be used in Clifford and Spindle’s trial. Additionally, the Government relied on junk science – faulty hair analysis – to link Clifford and Spindle to each other, which the Government posited made it likely that they committed the crime. The Government relied on a strand of hair that an expert testified belonged to Spindle, a hair which was not found at/or near the scene of the crime, but found in Clifford’s laundry bag in their shared soldiers' barracks. The FBI now admits that hair analysis, like what was conducted in Clifford’s trial is an invalid science.
Despite not having any physical evidence connecting Clifford to the crime, nor any evidence that Clifford knew Spindle or any of the other suspects involved, Clifford was sentenced to life without parole. Clifford was an 20-year-old private in the U.S. Army when he was wrongfully convicted.
HIP filed a motion for DNA testing in the U.S. District Court in Hawai'i in Clifford's case, seeking testing under the Innocence Protection Act. The U.S. District Court ruled that Clifford could not seek DNA testing under the IPA because he was not convicted of a federal crime - but convicted by military court martial. HIP appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and argued on July 7, 2021 that the IPA should apply to Clifford and that the court should order DNA testing. You can listen to HIP's oral arguments before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals here and watch the oral arguments here.
Despite HIP's arguments before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Clifford's appeal was denied. However, in issuing their ruling, tall three Judges issued a concurring opinion stating in part "[t]he IPA’s text creates the bizarre and unjust result that service members convicted by courts-martial are less able to obtain DNA testing than other categories of prisoners, federal or state...[t]his disparity is entirely inconsistent with the respect usually given to veterans. I urge Congress to remedy this unfairness by amending the IPA to explicitly provide service members convicted by courts-martial the same avenues for post-conviction DNA testing afforded to other prisoners." You can read the Court's opinion here.
He is now 60 years old and remains incarcerated in a state prison in Florida. Clifford has been incarcerated for over 39 years for a crime he did not commit.