Denver DA likely jailed innocent Black man for 28 years

A human tragedy was displayed in a courtroom in Denver on July 30.

Clarence Moses-El

Clarence Moses-El

Two Black men sat in front of the judge. One was Clarence Moses-El, having served 28 years of a 48-year sentence for a beating and rape. The other man, L.C. Jackson, had been sentenced to prison for 135 years for many similar crimes. He was now admitting to having committed the crime that Moses-El was convicted of. Ever since his conviction in 1987, Moses-El has proclaimed his innocence.

After 26 years in which he had no contact with the other imprisoned man, Jackson sent a letter written on loose-leaf paper to Moses-El in 2012. Facing serious health issues, a painful conscience and a life in jail, Jackson said he wanted to bring “what was done in the dark into the light.” His heart was heavy with guilt and, although he could not be punished for the admission as the statute of limitations had long passed, he asked for Moses-El to send someone to see him.

At the July 30 hearing, Jackson said he “wanted to make things right.” His confession, along with some serological evidence, could form the basis of a decision to grant a new trial for Moses-El.

In the hearing, it was recounted that Jackson had a history of burglaries and was eventually tried and convicted in 2007 for the brutal beating and rapes of a mother and her 9-year-old daughter. He admitted to being on medication for the treatment of bipolar and schizophrenic mental disorders. His consuming of malt liquor in the past made his behavior more violent.

On the witness stand, he had difficulty remembering various statements, but clearly admitted to the circumstances of a 1987 rape and beating, although he stated that the sex was consensual and that the beating took place when he became angered.

In 1987, the adult rape victim told the police that Jackson had attacked her, but a day and a half later she had a dream and changed her mind, saying she saw Moses-El in that dream. According to the Colorado Independent newspaper, Jackson was never questioned further. In an interview, Moses-El stated, “I am in here because of a dream.” (Denver Post, July 22, 2007)

Other facts in this case are disturbing. Critical DNA evidence, the victim’s clothing and bedding in a box marked “do not destroy” were all discarded by the Denver Police Department just before they could be sent to the lab. This evidence, which might have cleared Moses-El long ago, was trashed despite a court order and in violation of the DPD’s own rules on handling evidence.

The Denver Post newspaper, in a series of articles in 2007 (“Trashing The Truth”), stated that the discarding of critical evidence that might have exonerated a convicted person had occurred 141 times in 28 states in the past three decades.

When this fact was brought to a hearing to request a new trial in 2013, the judge denied the request based on a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Arizona v. Youngblood) that determined that destroying evidence does not constitute “bad faith,” and that unless the defendant can show bad faith on the part of the police, the destruction of evidence is not a denial of due process. (Workers World, Jan. 10, 2014) This means the defendant has the impossible task of showing bad faith on the part of the police.

Dr. Phillip Danielson, an expert witness and forensic biologist, testified at the July 31 hearing that serological evidence from vaginal swabs could determine that the donor of the semen was an O blood type secretor and that there was no evidence of any B blood type secretor. Hence it was “extremely unlikely” for Clarence Moses-El, a B type secretor, to have been the rapist. Jackson is an O type secretor.

Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey has been reluctant to open the case. Morrissey’s chief deputy, Bonnie Benedetti, has repeatedly called for delays in the hearings that could possibly grant ­Moses-El a new trial.

The Colorado Independent reported, “Benedetti has tried to silence Jackson from testifying today by urging him to lawyer-up and take the Fifth to avoid prosecution, even though he’s already serving more than a life sentence and Benedetti has said in court that the statute of limitations already has tolled.” (July 30)

Moses-El’s counsel (Eric Klein and Gail Johnson) revealed that in interviewing Jackson, Benedetti brought along the police officer who had previously arrested him, who intimidated Jackson and obtained a statement recanting his confession. At the hearing, she claimed that there was “absolutely no new evidence in this case whatsoever.” (Colorado Independent, Aug. 4)

Pushing multiple delays in this case, Morrissey has refused to admit that he likely prosecuted, convicted and jailed an innocent man. Morrissey had worked on this case for nine years and does not want this to lead to a new trial.

With Jackson’s admission, the similarity of this crime to others that Jackson committed, and the time sequences attested to by another witness who was once Jackson’s girlfriend, defense attorney Eric Klein said, “At the end of the day, a jury would have reasonable doubt.” (Colorado Independent, Aug. 4)

The disposal of critical evidence by the police as well as the original conviction based on the flimsy evidence of the victim’s dream identification show this case was poorly prosecuted. If the district attorney’s office wants to not destroy another Black man’s life, it should not stand in the way of a new trial.

Clarence Moses-El has spent almost half his life in prison. He has served 28 years of a 48-year sentence. Denver Judge Kandace Gerdes has to make a decision in the next 63 days, and she has indicated her decision will come most likely sooner. The tragedy of two Black men in the U.S. injustice system could be ended by the decision of one person.