Hours before the second presidential debate, Donald Trump invited four woman onto stage with him to launch the latest sexist attack on Hillary Clinton by targeting her husband’s past indiscretions.
The campaign ploy was characterized by many as an event with Bill Clinton accusers, but only three of the women had any connection to Bill Clinton’s previous sexual improprieties. The fourth woman, Kathy Shelton, is the only one with a direct connection to the woman who is running for president.
With help from the sizable anti-Clinton apparatus, Shelton’s story has arisen every time Hillary Clinton has run for public office in an attempt to portray her as a heartless defender of a known rapist. In reality, the details of the case are far more complicated.
In 1975, Clinton was appointed by a judge in Arkansas to serve as the attorney for Thomas Alfred Taylor, the man who raped Shelton when she was just 12 years old. Taylor, who could not afford an attorney, requested that the judge assign him a female attorney to represent him, and Judge Maupin Cummings picked Clinton.
The prosecutor in the case, Mahlon Gibson, has said in numerous interviews that Clinton expressed hesitation about representing a rapist.
“Hillary told me she didn’t want to take that case, she made that very clear,” he told Newsday for a 2008 article about Shelton’s case.
Once appointed to the case, Clinton was legally obligated to defend her client to the best of her ability. That included hearing testimony from a number of expert witnesses, some of whom questioned the veracity of Shelton’s allegations. Though unquestionably upsetting to read about years later, nobody who was familiar with the case has criticized Clinton’s handling of the case. From the Newsday article:
“She was vigorously advocating for her client. What she did was appropriate,” said Andrew Schepard, director of Hofstra Law School’s Center for Children, Families and the Law. “He was lucky to have her as a lawyer … In terms of what’s good for the little girl? It would have been hell on the victim. But that wasn’t Hillary’s problem.”
Opponents have characterized the case as an instance of Clinton helping a convicted rapist avoid prosecution, but that too is false. Taylor pled guilty in the case after Clinton successfully struck a deal with the prosecution to lessen the charges.
Though she had spoken with various news outlets over the years, Shelton only came out publicly with her story this year, in an interview with the Daily Mail. Conservative media—including the website run by Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon—quickly seized on Shelton’s story to try and discredit Clinton’s lifelong work on behalf of children.