$5 million judgment for prison worker's family
■ But only if man who murdered her wins lottery, gets inheritance or writes book about victim.
By LIZ COBBSs
NEWS STAFF REPORTER
The family of a civilian worker at the Huron Valley Men’s Facility has won a $5 million judgment against the man convicted of killing her five years ago.
But the judgment against Clarence Herndon, currently serving a life sentence for the death of Tammy Sperle. would be payable only if he received proceeds from any lottery winnings, inheritance, books, movies or interviews related to Sperle’s death, a court document shows.
Scott L. Mazey, the Southfield attorney representing Sperle’s family, said the agreement was worked out to avoid having Sperle’s parents, Bob and Marilyne Sampson, and her former husband, Allan Sperle, go through a trial against Herndon.
It is uncertain whether Herndon, incarcerated at Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility, plans to write a book or sell a story about Sperle’s death.
Herndon, 47, is represented by Ann Arbor attorney Paul D. Reingold, also director of the University of Michigan Law School’s Clinical Law Program. Reingold was not available for comment Friday.
Sperle’s family filed two lawsuits in 1998 against Herndon and the Michigan Department of Corrections.
A $10 million negligence suit filed in the Michigan Court of Claims in Lansing, charging MDOC with having a defective and dangerous public building, was dismissed.
The second $10 million suit was initially filed in Washtenaw County Circuit Court, but the parts involving claims of federal constitutional law violations were removed and sent to the U.S. District Court in Detroit, creating a third lawsuit.
Assault and battery and wrongful death counts and requests for damages against Herndon remained before Washtenaw County Circuit Court Judge Donald Shelton, who ruled last February in favor of the plaintiffs. The case was transferred to Washtenaw County Trial Judge John B. Collins for a trial on damages. Collins appointed Reingold to represent Herndon, and a consent judgment was worked out.
The third lawsuit - against the MDOC and various officials at the Huron Valley Men’s Facility in Pittsfield Township - is on appeal to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
In March 2000. U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland dismissed the plaintiffs' various claims, which included a hostile work environment.
The main argument on appeal, Mazey said, is the claim for violation by the MDOC of Sperle’s right to due process. The claim alleges that the MDOC and its officers "acted with deliberate indifference’’ to Sperle by "creating the dangerous situation to which she was exposed, and rendering her more vulnerable to danger.’’
Sperle, a Milan resident and a 33-year-old mother of two sons, was a civilian employee of MDOC who operated a prison store where inmates bought personal items. DNA evidence and a fingerprint on a package of soup Sperle gave to Herndon the morning of Feb. 5,1996, linked Herndon to the crime. That afternoon, Sperle was found beaten, strangled with a shoelace and unconscious in a caged-in area of the store. The package of soup was found next to her body. Sperle was taken to Saline Community Hospital, where she died.
A jury found Herndon guilty of first-degree premeditated murder in November 1998, even though he denied killing Sperle.
At the time of Sperle’s death, Herndon was serving an 18-to 40-year prison term for his 1985 conviction of stabbing a Detroit woman.
Huron Valley Men's Facility
Crime & Criminals
Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility
University of Michigan Law School
Michigan Department of Corrections
Michigan Court of Claims
Washtenaw County Circuit Court
U.S. District Court (Detroit)
U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals
Saline Community Hospital
Ann Arbor News
Scott L. Mazey
Paul D. Reingold
John B. Collins