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Former inmate with AIDS fights to clear name


Convicted murderer released after pardon

October 30, 1996
Web posted at: 11:00 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Susan Candiotti

BETHESDA, Maryland (CNN) -- No longer behind bars, Christopher Clugston is free to work on his car in his Bethesda driveway.

Just about all of the fruits of life are available to him -- except for peace of mind.


Despite his freedom, Clugston is waging an unusual legal fight to clear his name, while struggling to overcome the horrors he said he endured during 13 years in prison. He contracted AIDS, he said, after a prison gang rape years ago.

"You go to bed at nighttime and it's like you're trying to run, but you can't run. Or you're trying to see, but you can't see," Clugston said.


Clugston's troubles date back to 1981, when teen-age bouncer Bryce Waldman was killed outside a south Florida nightclub in a drive-by shooting. Clugston was identified as the triggerman and, after three mistrials, he was convicted.

In 1994, after Clugston had been in prison 13 years, he was pardoned by Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles.

"After a very detailed, thorough, comprehensive investigation, there was substantial doubt that Mr. Clugston committed the crime of which he was convicted," said Mark Schlakman, chief counsel to Chiles.

Pardon not enough

For some people, such a concession from the state would have been enough, but not for Clugston. He is demanding a new trial to clear his name.

"I'm willing to fight for my freedom and my rights, whether it kills me or frees me," he said.


Despite the governor's pardon, the lawyer who prosecuted Clugston and the family of the dead nightclub bouncer remain convinced of his guilt.

"Victims and victims' families deserve finality in the criminal justice system," former prosecutor Sam Rabin said. "And these people have gotten anything but that."

Family supports wishes

Clugston's lawyer sympathizes, but insists his client is an innocent man. "Imagine living under the stigma of being a convicted murderer when you had nothing to do with the murder," attorney Ken Kukec said.

Given their son's health, Clugston's parents don't look forward to a possible fourth trial, but they know it's what he wants.

"Chris deserves to have his name cleared," his mother, Peggy Clugston, said.

Win or lose, he'll take his chances on a new trial. Otherwise, Clugston says his pardon means nothing.

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