Post Editorial Attacks Bill Inspired By Its Own Pulitzer Finalist

The April 3 Message column about recent controversies involving the Denver Post’s fine “Trashing the Truth” series, a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize to be announced on April 7, focuses on credibility assaults made by outsiders – a reporter from the Charlotte Observer, who initially felt the Post used some of her work without proper credit, and Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey; the DA’s complaints are detailed in a separate blog accessible here. But another odd note recently sounded from within the Post itself. On March 27, the paper published an editorial poor-mouthing legislation inspired by “Truth.”

To be clear, the piece in question, “DNA Evidence Bill Goes Too Far,” doesn’t specifically mention the articles or the conclusions they reach about the case of Clarence Moses-EL (seen here in a Post photo), whose appeal of a rape conviction withered after DNA evidence initially set aside by the DA’s office was discarded after his defense attorneys failed to pick it up over the course of about a month. Indeed, the unanimous authors note that “the case should have been handled better, particularly with regard to DNA evidence.” But the editorial rejects the notion that these problems justify a bill sponsored by state senator Ken Gordon “requiring courts to hold a new trial if DNA evidence that was supposed to be preserved instead was destroyed.”

Here’s the crux of the Post editorialists’s reasoning:

While we appreciate Gordon's passion for this particular case, the bill is a bad idea for a host of reasons.

The court system already provides avenues of recourse for those who say they were wrongly convicted. This bill would add an additional process and force judges to hold new trials even if a court determines the totality of evidence, testimony and circumstance says the defendant is guilty.

It also sets no deadlines for such actions. It's conceivable that decades after a conviction, a convict could initiate such a review and get a new trial. Witnesses may have moved, died or forgotten what happened.

And what of the victims? This bill would forever leave open the possibility that they might have to relive the crime because some bit of evidence that should have been preserved has gone missing.

It is for this reason that victims' rights advocates are calling the bill the "Revictimization Bill of 2008.

Even more interesting is the editorial’s view of the evidence in the Moses-EL matter. After suggesting that Senator Gordon forego legislation in favor of urging Governor Bill Ritter to grant the accused man clemency, the writers acknowledge that “we are not as convinced of the innocence of Moses-EL as others.” In paragraphs that follow, they undermine several points made in Moses-EL’s favor, including the assertion that the victim only pointed her finger at him after having a dream in which he appeared – something Post managing editor Gary Clark emphasized when dismissing DA Morrissey’s call for corrections:

Moses-EL was identified by the victim, who knew him as "Bubbles." Now, about that identification. Much has been said that hasn't painted a complete picture. For instance, it has been repeatedly said the victim first named others as the perpetrators and ultimately fingered Moses-EL because his identity came to her "in a dream."

In her trial testimony, the victim, who was beaten so severely that her own sister didn't recognize her, said she was having trouble communicating after the attack. She had been repeatedly raped, sustained broken bones in her face and ultimately lost the use of an eye.

In the hospital, as she was coming out of her haze, she had what she calls a "nightmare" and relived the attack. After that, she was able to tell authorities who had raped her.

As for naming others, the victim said she was in shock directly after the attack and didn't know why she kept saying names of people she'd been with earlier in the night. She never believed they attacked her.

The jury in the case heard these arguments, and Moses-EL's alibi, which was discredited by witnesses. They convicted him. The case has been to the Colorado Court of Appeals four times and petitioned to the Colorado Supreme Court three times.

The editorial’s publication date was dictated by the progress of Gordon’s bill, not the impending Pulitzer announcement. Still, the timing is unfortunate given the other arrows directed at “Trashing the Truth” of late. The project remains an outstanding effort that deserves to be remembered no matter what happens with Gordon’s bill or the big prize set to be awarded within a matter of days. – Michael Roberts

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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