New book claims former DA accused Visalia man of murder in 1975
This is the first part of a two part series.
Tony Reid, a seasoned defense attorney and private detective turned writer, says the former Tulare County District Attorney deliberately set up an innocent man to murder a 13-year-old girl in 1975 to save his political career.
Is The Innocent Man Framed?
Reid’s new book, 12/26/75, The murder of 13-year-old Donna Jo Richmond in Exeter the day after Christmas in 1975, and the eventual arrest and conviction of Oscar Clifton. Reid says this conviction was based on fabricated charges using false evidence and deliberate concealment of evidence that would clear Clifton’s name.
Strikingly, Reid said that Tulare County’s current district attorney, Tim Ward, deliberately withheld the evidence proving Clifton’s innocence. A second article in this series, scheduled for release in early January, will examine Clifton’s continued efforts to clear his name and Ward’s blatant attempt to stall him.
Clifton died in 2013 while incarcerated in the California Men’s Colony, a state prison located in San Luis Obispo.
Reid’s interest in the case began in 2016 and came to his attention while investigating a similar unsolved murder in Visalia, which also occurred in the mid-1970s. He soon turned his full attention to the Richmond murder, and what he said was Tulare County District Attorney Jay Powell’s effort to secure Clifton’s re-election by impeachment and conviction. Reid said he was assisted in this alleged crime by Tulare County Sheriff’s Detective Robert Byrd.
Gathering the extensive background material Reid used to recreate events from nearly half a century ago was a Herculean task, and Reid said the resulting book unequivocally proved that Clifton could not kill Richmond.
“It took six years, so I hope it all makes sense,” he said.
Sixty Years of Tragedy
While Clifton was not convicted of Richmond’s murder until 1976, the events that would lead him to spend the rest of his life in prison began years ago. Reid said Clifton initially clashed with the TCSO’s Byrd when Byrd was working as a union disruptor for local farmers and Clifton ran a trucking company that sided with the workers.
Reid said Clifton was convicted of a rape that may not have happened because of Byrd’s need for revenge. The detective’s grudge against Clifton eventually led Clifton to remove his family from the area for ten years. According to Reid, when Byrd returned, he eventually picked up where he left off, making up the case against Clifton.
However, Byrd did not work alone to put Clifton behind bars. Reid said he had the full and willing support of Powell and his office to hide the bad investigation. Reid said Powell’s office was even working to verify the unsubstantiated case and was able to piece together the story in part because of Clifton’s relentless work to clear himself.
“After reading all of Oscar’s writing on this subject, the question arose of how he was convicted,” Reid said.
The response said that Powell deliberately misused the prosecution.
“He was trying to make a name for himself,” Reid said. “He was elected after the Watergate backlash. He was trying to be a hawk.”
Although Clifton died in prison in 2013, his family still hopes his name will be cleared. Reid would have liked that, too, and volunteered to assist the attorney general’s office in investigating the case. Instead, AG ordered the Tulare County Attorney’s Office to prepare a conviction integrity review (CIR) to reconfirm the proper conduct of the DA’s office during the prosecution of Clifton.
According to Reid, a CIR aims to examine cases where there is the possibility of a wrongful conviction. Reid said the CIR performed by the Ward office in the Clifton case was unfortunately insufficient.
“A CIR must include a defense attorney. “That’s what was really missing 100 percent in this report,” he said.
More importantly, a CIR is an official prosecution of the court, and Reid believes that if the CIR is implemented correctly, it will clear Clifton of any crime.
“They’re still bound by the burden of proof,” Reid said. “The burden is beyond a reasonable doubt. There is obviously a reasonable doubt.”
Reid said Ward was aware of the inadequacy of the CIR and still supported it.
“We are talking about knowingly misrepresentation from a legal standpoint. “I know this isn’t true, but I’m going to say it anyway,” Reid said. “I don’t understand why the prosecutor’s office is making these statements when they know they’re not true.”
Sold 12/26/75 at Exeter Book Garden, 189 E. Pine Street or online at 12-26-75.com.
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