A Delaware Superior Court jury has found Clay Conaway guilty of third-degree unlawful sexual contact but not guilty of strangulation after an eight-day trial in Wilmington.
Conaway, 23, was facing charges of strangulation, of which the jury found him not guilty, and attempted second-degree rape, of which they also found him not guilty. They found him guilty of third-degree unlawful sexual contact, a misdemeanor and lesser charge offered to them to consider by Superior Court Judge Richard Stokes. Conaway, a former University of Delaware baseball player and a Sussex Central High School graduate, was accused of assaulting and strangling a 20-year-old coed in 2017.
Conaway fidgeted in his seat a bit prior to the verdict being read, clearly nervous. Conaway’s parents were in the courtroom, and his mother was visibly upset and crying as the guilty verdict was read. Conaway’s accuser was not in the courtroom for the verdict. Stokes did not set a date for sentencing; Conaway faces up to a year in prison for the misdemeanor.
Defense attorney Joe Hurley praised the jury for its thoroughness, deliberating for a combined 13 hours over two days.
“This is the most conscientious jury I’ve ever been involved with. Even if they had made the wrong decision, I would have said the same thing. They were admirable, courageous people,” he said.
Conway had faced a mandatory 10 years up to life in prison if convicted of attempted second-degree rape; he could have faced up to eight years if convicted of strangulation.
“To come out of this with a misdemeanor? It’s fantastic, and the correct verdict under the circumstances,” Hurley said.
Prosecutors Casey Ewart and Rebecca Anderson declined comment after the verdict. Mat Marshal, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said the department has no comment.
The prosecution said Conaway met the woman through the dating app Tinder. In her trial testimony, the woman said Conaway invited her to his house and after small talk and a brief kiss, Conaway grabbed her and threw her on the bed, hitting her head on a headboard. After trying to have sex with her, Conaway began strangling her, the woman testified. She said he had his hands around her throat for 8 to 10 seconds before letting go after she screamed for him to stop. The woman said she was escorted out of the house by two of Conaway’s roommates and never talked to him again.
The defense said the incident was the result of a misunderstanding and mixed signals. They questioned the woman’s recall of the room in which the incident happened, with Conaway’s parents and his landlord testifying that Conaway did not have a headboard on his bed. The woman also testified that Conaway had trophies and awards from his baseball career in his room, which other witnesses, including Conaway’s parents, testified were not there.
The 12-member jury, consisting of seven men and five women, took nearly two days to deliberate. After eight hours of deliberations on Feb. 20, the jury asked to review the woman’s interview with Newark police nearly a year after the incident. The jury decided to resume deliberations Feb. 21, heading back to the jury room at 9:20 a.m. Five hours later, they returned with their verdict.
This is the second of six trials Conaway faces on various sexual assault charges, stemming from incidents that took place between 2013 and 2018. The trial is taking place in Delaware Superior Court in Wilmington because the crime is alleged to have taken place in New Castle County. The prosecution originally sought to try all six cases together, but Stokes, who also presided at the first trial, sided with the defense and called for six separate trials.
Conaway was indicted Aug. 20, 2018, by a grand jury on first-degree rape for an incident at his Georgetown home. He pleaded not guilty Aug. 24 to the first-degree charge; by the end of September 2018, five more women claimed he assaulted them between 2013 and 2018, resulting in five counts of second-degree rape. One woman eventually dropped her case, but in November 2018 Conaway was indicted on strangulation and attempted second-degree rape, the charges he faced in the latest trial. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
In September 2019, Conaway was convicted of fourth-degree rape, a lesser charge offered in his first-degree rape trial. Stokes sentenced Conaway in November 2019 to five years of prison, and he has since been incarcerated at Sussex Correctional Institution. Conaway still faces four more trials on second-degree rape charges.