By Steve Rogers/
A wife-beating case that has kept some Columbus social circles as well as social media abuzz, especially in recent weeks, will get some closure Friday after the victim tells a judge she is ready to move on.
Brian Clark, the 37-year-old son of a wealthy Wayne County oil and convenience store owners, faces up to 20 years in the September 2013 beating of Columbus native Hope Younger Imes Clark.
The case has dragged out for four years and only began to pick up momentum when Clark pleaded guilty to aggravated domestic assault charges in May. But it turned a little caustic when his Aug. 10 sentencing was delayed because he has not completed 24 weekly batterers’ treatment sessions at a clinic in Pearl, Miss.
After Hope Clark, who still is married to Brian Clark, told Assistant District Attorney Lindsey Clemons she agreed with the continuance, Lowndes County Criminal Court Judge Jim Kitchens rescheduled sentencing for Nov. 13.
But that set off a firestorm on social media, including rumors and suggestions that Kitchens had accepted gratuities in exchange for stringing the case out. Those innuendos were based on the fact Brian Clark’s uncle is an influential Jackson lawyer with connections across the state. Brian Clark’s family’s wealth contributed as well.
Miffed at the suggestion of impropriety, Kitchens stepped back and set a status hearing for last Friday. He addressed any hint of him being on the take in a 30-minute diatribe that stressed three points — “I will do my job,” “I don’t know either of these people” and these aren’t “cookie cutter” cases.
On two different occasions, he said, “If either side wants me to recuse myself from this case, I will be more than happy to.” [See more on Kitchens’ response in Steve Rogers’ column in today’s Packet. – Ed.] His offer drew nothing but silence from both sides.
Noting he understood she may have had a change of heart in recent weeks, Kitchens called Hope Clark to the stand to see what she wanted.
Before Kitchens questioned Hope Clark, Clemons provided some background, noting that in May when the victim initially agreed to a sentencing delay, she and prosecutors thought Brian Clark was entering an in-patient treatment program for spousal abusers. Only later did they discover it was a weekly out-patient counseling session.
During questioning from Kitchens, Hope Clark appeared conflicted at times. On several occasions she looked at her assaulter while answering the judge’s questions. The first time came when Kitchens asked if they still were married.
In the end, Kitchens offered, and she asked for, time to speak with Clemons about waiting until the Nov. 13 date or having Kitchens sentence Brian Clark Sept. 8.
After about a 15-minute discussion, Hope Clark opted for Sept. 8.
“It’s time to get this over with, I want it done. Waiting isn’t going to make a difference or do anyone any good,” she said afterwards.
Asked why she looked at her attacker several times, her answer was direct.
“He depends on power and control. I wanted him to know I am strong,” said Hope Clark, who has a dental practice in Starkville.
Kitchens said he will hear from prosecutors, including information on at least one other assault alleged against Brian Clark involving a woman in Florida and some drug issues. Brian Clark’s attorney, former prosecutor turned defense attorney Rod Ray, will present mitigating testimony.
Kitchens also asked about children involved. Hope Clark has a 14-year-old from a previous marriage — he was 10 at the time of the assault and heard it from an adjacent room — and a 4-year-old, who was an infant at the time, with Brian Clark.
The judge said he may want to hear from the 14-year-old about the impact the incident had on him, even though his father was not the attacker.
In an emotional victim’s impact statement filed with the court in June, Hope Clark said she wants her husband to spend time in prison. It’s the only way he will change and get out from under the protection and influence of his parents, she says, noting the constant memories she has of him forcing his way into her Columbus residence and bashing her head against a door frame.
In that victim’s statement, she says her oldest son was cowering in a corner in an adjacent bedroom holding a bat expecting to have to fend off an attack.
After Friday’s hearing, Hope Clark said her thoughts haven’t changed about what should happen. She just doesn’t think any more delays will make a difference.
“It’s time to get it done,” she said. “I’ve got to do what I think is best for me and the boys.”