Fulton County

‘I felt like I got let out of prison:’ Atlanta rape victim gets justice after 22 years

ATLANTA — A rape victim is telling her story after her attacker was convicted more than 22 years after the crime.

A Fulton County prosecutor says the victim’s rape kit sat untested for years-- and there may be hundreds of other women still waiting for justice because of the same issue.

The victim, who did not want to be identified, spoke exclusively with Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne about the attack and how it changed her life.

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The lead prosecutor says Cleophus Ward served 15 years for four different sexual assault cases from years ago and was back on the street. But Ward was recently locked up at the Fulton County Jail to stand trial on a case that went back even further.

Now, he’s serving a life sentence plus 20 years in state prison-- and a victim from 22 years ago helped put him there.

“It really just derailed everything. I was basically just starting out on my dream. After this, I just couldn’t do it. I could not be down there. It took me a long time to even be able to travel to Atlanta and feel okay about it,” the victim said.

She says that in 2000, she was in her second semester at Spelman College, her dream school. But her dream was derailed by Cleophus Ward.

“I spent many years in what I now know is depression. Just really not able to move forward with my life,” the victim said.


Ward abducted her near the Spelman campus, drove her south on Interstate 85 and raped her. It would be another 22 years before he went on trial and a Fulton County jury convicted him of rape and kidnapping.

“I felt like I had been confined by my own fear, my own nervousness and I felt like I got let out of prison. It was a wonderful day,” the victim said.

Deputy Fulton County District Attorney Julianna Peterson says the victim regained her power when she testified against him in his trial.

“She testified so incredibly powerfully and strongly,” said Peterson.

Peterson says the rape kit in this case was among the first pulled out of a huge cache of kits. There were roughly 1,500 kits from Fulton County alone. The rape kit in this case languished at Grady Memorial Hospital, untested for years until 2015. After it was tested, it led to a DNA match that identified Ward as the suspect.

In response to Winnie’s query of whether the untested kit was the fault of Grady Memorial Hospital or the criminal justice system, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis answered: “It’s the fault of the criminal justice system.”

Willis confirmed that the law requires police to retrieve kits that it didn’t initially.

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Peterson says that as a result of the delay, Ward victimized others.

“He would actually go on in 2002 to sexually assault four more women in a span of six weeks,” said Peterson.

“The scariest thing is when we’ve gone back and looked at those kits we have noticed that there are a lot of serial rapists,” said Willis. “You think that it’s a very sad day that if we had prosecuted these people for these horrible crimes against these young women, you would have avoided a lot of crime in our community.”

Willis says Ward’s prosecution was one of her top priorities. It was made possible thanks to the sexual assault kit initiative which was funded by grant money from the U.S. Department of Justice. The sexual assault kit initiative sent old kits to private labs for testing.

She says the initiative allowed her to double the size of her team.

“I had my day to tell my story and you know, the team gave me that,” said the victim.

A spokesman says Ward is represented by a public defender. The office filed a motion for a new trial on Ward’s behalf on May 31.

The spokesman says the reasons for this new motion will become clearer when it is heard.

Peterson says Ward was convicted May 26 and there are probably other victimized women who are still awaiting justice.