The William Hetherington case is a 1985 alleged human rights violation legal case in the U.S. state of Michigan in which William Hetherington was controversially convicted of the rape of his wife during a contentious divorce case and custody dispute. As of 2007, Hetherington has served over 22 years in custody, which he claims is due partly to exceptional hindrances in appealing the claimed injustices in the sentence.
A significant number of observers believe that he was either incorrectly found guilty, or grossly over-sentenced, and denied due process of law applicable to his defense.
In May 1985 following Linda's travelling without notice to another state, divorce was filed. It was expected that Hetherington would win custody due to Linda's history of abandonment of the children and family, for a period of more than two months. In August, Linda claimed he had raped her a month earlier and he was imprisoned briefly. Although released shortly afterwards, the timing caused custody to be given to Linda, with the judge commenting that custody would have gone to William had he not been incarcerated at the time of the hearing, but that he could apply later for custody instead.
A month later, after William was released, he applied for custody. A hearing was set for October 7, but before this could take place, Linda again accused him of rape, claiming he had taped and tied her up, threatened that she was about to "meet her maker", abducted her by car, cut her clothing off, and raped her. According to William she invited sexual intercourse at her mother's home where she was staying, then began demanding money she believed he had. After some confusion, according to "several witnesses", Linda's mother insisted charges were pressed.
Eventually William persuaded an attorney, David Wright, to represent him, for a $10,000 fee to be paid from his disability checks.
As trial approached in May 1986, the prosecutor offered a plea bargain, that if he pleaded guilty to a single charge of first degree rape, and a court-appointed psychologist concluded that he was not a danger to his ex-wife, he would receive a delayed sentence of 11 months, or probation with credit for time served. The offer was made coercively, William claims, during jury selection itself, as a piece of paper to sign then and there. The prosecutor admitted in 1990 that he had known of, but not made, the offer for a week before offering it, but otherwise refused to comment.
The evidence in the case has been criticized. A pelvic examination of Linda 3 hours after the alleged incident showed no evidence of forcible injury, described as "very unusual" in a rape case by the doctor. Although police officers stated that possible adhesive tape traces were visible on her face, doctors examining her found that no traces of that kind existed, and the scissors alleged to be used to cut the tape showed no adhesive traces either. Other evidence - the tape, gloves and underwear - was said by Linda to have been flushed down the toilet by her assailant. A neighbor, Reinhardt, added further evidence that contradicted the story - that William's car had been at the location Linda alleged she was abducted and therefore she had known he was there (she claimed she had not known), and that during the alleged rape she had left the house to get something from the car, then returned to the house to talk further. Sperm was found in Linda's clothing; however William had previously had a vasectomy, a form of sterilization which makes a man incapable of emitting sperm.
The court-appointed psychiatrist was supportive of William's case. Lacking prior record, sentencing guidelines at the time were 6 to 10 years (average time served by a convicted rapist in Michigan is 5 years), and this was reinforced by a "highly favorable" report that concluded William's personality seemed to "substantiate his explanation of what has occurred", and that "this is not a man who would force himself sexually or hostilely on another individual.... He does not appear to be an individual who is dangerous for society."
There was also strong suspicion that the prosecution was motivated by other factors. Weiss, who was running for the Michigan Supreme Court at the time, was claimed to be "grandstanding for the feminist vote":
Likewise the judge, Thomas Yeotis, discredited the psychiatrists view on the grounds that "you make a nice appearance, and yet, there's something about you that disturbs me." The psychiatrist was one whose opinion the judge is said to have "relied on" for 20 years before, and continued to do so after.