Survivor Faces Man In Court Sentencing Who Kidnapped, Raped & Set Her On Fire

“It's finally over. I can move on with my life. I've let go of my hatred and all of my anger and I can move forward from here,” Diane Pranske said.

January 15, 2019
Carleous Clay [Ottawa County Jail]

Carleous Clay [Ottawa County Jail]

Carleous Clay [Ottawa County Jail]

By: Mike McPadden

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CHICAGO, IL — Three-and-a-half years after surviving a brutal crime during which she was kidnapped, raped, and set on fire, a Chicago-area woman faced her attacker in court as he received a sentence of life behind bars.

On September 17, 2015, multiply convicted criminal Carleous Clay, then 30, burglarized the Lansing, Illinois, home of Diane Pranske while she was at work.

After making off with various electronics and Pranske’s undergarments, Clay returned to the residence just as the 53-year-old mother was coming home with groceries.

After a confrontation, Clay forced Pranske into the trunk of her own car with a hammer. He then drove the vehicle to a pair of ATMs, where he withdrew funds from Pranske’s accounts. Both incidents were caught on camera.

From there, Clay took Pranske to a derelict building in Burns Harbor, Indiana. Once inside, Clay beat her, raped her, and choked her until she passed out. As Pranske lay unconscious, Clay soaked her with lighter fluid, lit her ablaze, and sped off in her car.

Fortunately, Pranske woke up and scrambled outside. Surveillance video shows the heroic woman rolling around and swatting at the flames on her body, after which she walked a half-mile up the road to a McDonald’s for help.

Police issued images from the ATM cameras that led to Clay’s arrest three days later. He reportedly confessed to federal agents, while investigators used DNA to connect him to the victim and the crime scenes.

Clay had been on parole at the time and was living near Pranske in a church-sponsored residence for ex-offenders. He had not previously known her.

Diane Pranske survived her ordeal with third-degree burns covering one-third of her body. She is also legally blind, confined to a wheelchair, and had to learn how to talk again. Pranske’s longtime companion retired from his job to become her full-time caregiver.

Last Friday, Prankse faced Clay for the first time since the attack at his sentencing hearing in Chicago.

"I thank God every day that Diane got up that day. I thank God that she’s alive. I was scandalous toward her. I was rotten," Carleous Clay told Judge Virginia Kendall.

While standing before Judge Virginia Kendall, Clay told the court:

“I don’t smile when I think about what happened. It bothered me because that’s not that person I am, especially when it comes to doing something to a woman. I thank God every day that Diane got up that day. I thank God that she’s alive. I was scandalous toward her. I was rotten.”

Judge Virginia Kendall cited Clay’s lifelong criminal history, as well as the extreme nature of this attack. She then sentenced him to life in prison.

Kendall then gave Clay an additional 10 years for a separate case in which he held a caseworker hostage inside the Metropolitan Correctional Facility. The judge further noted, “The victims are stronger than you.”

Outside the courtroom, Diane Pranke smiled and told reporters she was “overjoyed” with the ruling, saying:

“It means that the world is safe from that evil monster. It makes me happy to know that I had something to do with putting him away. I’m sorry I had to pay the price, but, oh well, that’s what had to happen…. I'm very good. It's finally over. I can move on with my life. I've let go of my hatred and all of my anger and I can move forward from here."

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