Jury: Clarence Moses-El Innocent of Rape for Which He Spent 28 Years in Prison

Update: A jury has acquitted Clarence Moses-El of all charges related to an August 1987 sexual assault.

Moses-El consistently insisted that he was innocent of the charges against him, and another man, LC Jackson, confessed in a 2012 letter; see our previous coverage below. But Moses-El spent 28 years in prison for the offense, and even after he was freed last December in the wake of a judge vacating his conviction, outgoing Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey decided to put him on trial again, to the shock of Moses-El's advocates.

Morrissey's office isn't exactly apologizing for going ahead with a retrial, despite the outcome; Moses-El was acquitted on accusations of first-degree sexual assault, second-degree assault and burglary.

A statement attributed to chief Deputy DA Bonnie Benedetti, who prosecuted the case, reads. “I want to thank the jury for their time and attention during the course of the trial. I am proud to work in an office that believes and stands by the victim, and in which investigative resources were provided that enabled us to challenge the credibility of the so-called confession by LC Jackson.” She added, “It was the right thing to allow a jury — not public opinion — to make the decision in this case.”

As we note in our previous coverage, on view below, the reporter most responsible for keeping the Moses-El matter before the public and passionately pushing for his release was Susan Greene, first with the Denver Post and most recently under the auspices of The Colorado Independent. She deserves an incredible amount of credit for her dogged refusal to let an innocent man die behind bars for a crime he didn't commit.

Continue for an earlier report about the Moses-El case, with plenty of additional details.

Original post, 9:04 a.m. December 17, 2015: In June, we noted that organizers of a petition drive to recall Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey had highlighted one case above all the other Morrissey matters about which they had concerns.

"The District Attorney’s Office has the Clarence Moses-El case," noted a letter shared with Westword by Alex Landau, the former police-brutality victim who was leading the effort. "Mr. Moses-El has served thirty years for a crime someone else confessed to."

The petition drive ultimately failed — but now, Moses-El will reportedly receive a new trial in the case, which involved a victim who identified him as a suspect after envisioning him in a dream and the loss of DNA evidence that might have exonerated him.

The reporter who's done the best work on the Moses-El case is Susan Greene, first with the Denver Post and more recently at the Colorado Independent, whose 2013 overview offers reasons aplenty why Moses-El deserves another shot at justice.

The latter piece notes that the victim spent much of August 27, 1987 drinking with three men, including LC Jackson.

She subsequently fell asleep on her couch, but she told police she was awakened by an intruder who raped and beat her, breaking bones in her face that led to her losing the vision in one eye.

The victim suffered from poor eyesight before the attack and wasn't wearing her glasses when it took place. Moreover, the room was dark, making the establishment of an ID difficult. But a day and a half after she was raped, she told authorities that the identity of Moses-El, a neighbor, "had come to her in a dream" while she was convalescing in an area hospital.

Greene points out that the victim and Moses-El's wife had gotten into a disagreement the morning prior to the crime. But the victim stood by her claim in a psychiatric examination, during which she boasted that she'd had “premonitions/visions/daydreams on a number of occasions that have come true!”

Moses-El insisted on his innocence from the beginning and begged the cops to test biological evidence from the scene — but "they didn't," Greene writes. As such, Moses-El was convicted and handed a 48-year sentence.

During the years that followed, Moses-El continued to fight for DNA testing — but in 1996, after he'd won the right to have the rape kit analyzed, the evidence, which had been placed in a box marked "DO NOT DESTROY," was discarded by Denver police.

Moses-El promptly went to court seeking a new trial based on the destruction of material that might have exonerated him. But in a May 1997 ruling on view below, District Court Judge John McMullen rejected this effort. Here's an excerpt from McMullen's order:
The Court concludes that the defendant has failed to establish a violation of due process. There is no evidence either direct or circumstantial of official animus or conscious effort to suppress exculpatory evidence. Reasonable efforts were made initially to preserve the evidence by packaging it, marking that it not be destroyed and making a computer entry that it be held. In fact, it was available for pickup by defendant between November 2, 1995 and December 3, 1995. Its destruction resulted from negligence in failure to notify the assigned detective directly, in not carefully reading computer printouts and not inspecting individual packages and paperwork prior to actual destruction. These were errors of omission which occurred within the context of generally following standard procedures for the destruction of evidence in a high volume property management operation and which related to evidence being held on a seven year old case. They do not amount to "bad faith."
This determination kept Moses-El behind bars. Then, in 2012, Jackson, who wasn't questioned in the earlier rape case even though he'd been present that evening (he's now in jail for sexual assaults committed five years later), wrote Moses-El a letter that reads in part, “I really don’t know what to say to you. But let’s start by bringing what was done in the dark into the light. I have a lot on my heart" — specifically his assertion that he'd beaten the victim after engaging in rough sex but kept silent as Moses-El was prosecuted and convicted.

Although Jackson repeated these assertions in testimony this past July, Moses-El lingered in lock-up. But now that a new trial has been ordered, Morrissey's office must decide to either take Moses-El back to court or toss the case.

We asked Denver DA's office spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough to comment on these developments. Via e-mail, she sent this statement: "Only speaking to process — the District Attorney will be reviewing the court’s decision, and needs to meet with the victim, and will then determine what the appropriate next steps are in this case. I believe we have thirty days to contact the court to set a new trial date."

In the meantime, those who've backed Moses-El for years have reason for optimism that he'll walk free soon.

Here's the 1997 court ruling.

Colorado v. Clarence Moses-El (1997)

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts