Clay Conaway pleaded guilty April 6 to third-degree rape for a May 2018 incident in Dewey Beach, and also no contest to charges in the last three remaining rape cases filed against him in Sussex Superior Court.
Conaway’s attorney, Joseph Hurley, who has represented him through two rape trials since Conaway’s 2018 indictments on first- and second-degree rape, said his client does not believe he is guilty, but in this day and age of social media, finding an impartial jury would be difficult.
“You don’t know who has made up their mind because of what’s been seen on social media,” Hurley said. “He didn’t want to plead guilty, but he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life in prison because of social media dwarfs.”
Deputy Attorney General Casey Ewart would not comment because of a gag order that was placed by former Superior Court Judge Richard Stokes, which remains in effect.
Attorney General Kathleen Jennings, however, issued a statement after the plea hearing.
“The court imposed a protective order in this case, so you will hear more from the state during and post-sentencing,” Jennings said. “Today brings to a close the last of six convictions for a serial rapist. We are endlessly grateful to the survivors for their courage coming forward – especially those who withstood outdated and unacceptable victim-shaming. Those survivors are the reason justice has arrived today, and why their attacker will remain in prison for years to come.”
Conaway’s case is the longest ongoing case in Sussex County. The pleas taken for the last four second-degree rape cases end a nearly four-year saga that began in 2018 when Conaway was first indicted by a grand jury on a first-degree rape charge. He was later indicted on more counts after six women came forward and said he sexually assaulted them. One woman dropped her case, leaving six women total.
In September 2019, Conaway was tried by a jury in Sussex County Superior Court on the first-degree rape charge, and was found guilty of a lesser charge of fourth-degree rape. He was immediately remanded to prison, and two months later was sentenced to five years in prison.
In Conaway’s second trial on attempted second-degree rape charge and strangulation, a jury again found Conaway guilty of a lesser charge – this time, misdemeanor third-degree unlawful sexual contact. He was given a one-year sentence in 2021 for the misdemeanor charge.
Hurley and his co-attorneys, Natalie Woloshin in the first trial and Diane Coffey in the second, are 2-0 in securing lesser charges for Conaway during the jury trials, and the latest pleas, guilty of third-degree rape and no contest for the other charges, follow that trend. However, Hurley was reluctant to say their defense was a success.
“It depends how you define success,” he said.
Sussex County Superior Court Judge Rob Robinson will sentence Conaway on June 24.
Conaway could get from 2 to 25 years for third-degree rape; that term would be consecutive and added to his six-year sentence. He could also get up to 15 years for the no-contest pleas, but they might be concurrent, and not add additional prison time.
Conaway remains incarcerated at Sussex Correctional Institution, where he has been a model prisoner who helps tutor other inmates, Hurley said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the charges against Conaway in his second trial.