Denver prisoner faced legal failures in fight to clear name

AP News
|
Posted: Dec 18, 2015 4:33 PM
Denver prisoner faced legal failures in fight to clear name

DENVER (AP) — A Denver man long declared he did not rape a woman who said his face appeared to her in a dream, but he faced repeated legal and political failures as he fought from prison to prove his innocence.

Clarence Moses-EL, who has served more than half of his 48-year sentence, could be released as soon as Tuesday after a man convicted of two other rapes wrote and offered to clear him.

A jury convicted him of the 1987 sexual assault largely based on the testimony of the victim, who initially named the man who later confessed. Moses-EL later won a legal bid for DNA testing on the evidence to clear his name, but police destroyed it a month later. In 2008, the governor, a former Denver prosecutor, quashed legislation that would have granted him a new trial and had overwhelming support from lawmakers.

Despite the challenges, one of Moses-EL's attorneys said she has never seen him angry. "He has always fully believed that he would someday get out," Keyonyu O'Connell said.

Moses-EL's decades-long struggle to clear his name has garnered him sympathizers in Colorado. Supporters have raised money so he can post bond and walk free.

Even Denver District Judge Kandace C. Gerdes said as she overturned Moses-EL's conviction Monday that he would likely be acquitted at a new trial. Denver prosecutors have the option of trying him again but want to review the judge's decision and talk to the victim first.

"Without question, we believe the victim in this case, and our biggest concern is for her," said Lynn Kimbrough, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Mitch Morrissey.

Kimbrough added Friday that investigators determined the other man's confession was "implausible" and inconsistent with the beating. She said he recanted his confession to investigators because he didn't believe he could be charged and wanted to help Moses-EL, who Kimbrough said "has had the full benefit of every aspect of the criminal justice system, including multiple appeals."

But the case against Moses-EL had questions from the start.

The victim, who had six broken bones in her face and lost vision in one eye, initially named three men as possible attackers but did not accuse Moses-EL, a neighbor, until more than a day later, after her dream.

James Huff, the investigating detective, expressed doubts about Moses-EL's guilt in a sworn statement filed in 2005.

Still, Moses-EL lost an initial appeal of his conviction, which his attorney called typical. But what happened after that is far from it, O'Connell said.

In prison in the 1990s, Moses-EL spoke openly about his innocence. He persuaded fellow inmates to help him raise $1,000 for DNA testing on the evidence in his case, which wasn't the norm at the time. Famed defense lawyer Barry Scheck offered to lend a hand.

After a series of legal failures, a judge agreed to allow DNA testing on the rape kit, the victim's clothing and other items in 1995. A month later, police threw the evidence in the trash. Huff, the detective, said he didn't see any notice from the district attorney's office to hold on to the evidence.

Moses-EL's legal fight stalled until he got a letter from L.C. Jackson in 2013.

"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," Jackson wrote.

The fellow inmate testified at a court hearing in August that he knew the victim; she was a friend of his girlfriend at the time. Jackson said he hit her after becoming angry during consensual sex. The woman told police that she was lying down to sleep when a man put his hands around her neck and raped her.

Jackson's testimony and blood tests that suggested the rapist had a different blood type than Moses-EL would likely lead a jury to clear Moses-EL, the judge said this week.

Jackson has not been charged in the case. But DNA evidence led to his conviction in the 1992 rapes of a mother and daughter that happened about a mile and a half away from the first woman's home.

Still, Moses-EL must wait a bit longer before seeing his wife, two children and 12 grandchildren, whose photos line his cell.

First he must make the four-hour trip from the Bent County Correctional Facility to a jail in Denver, where a judge is scheduled to hold a hearing Tuesday to determine how much bond he would have to post to be released while prosecutors determine what to do next. The judge initially set bond at $50,000 but later rescinded it, saying a public hearing would have to be held to set the amount out of deference to the victim's rights.

After posting bond, he will walk outside and wait to hear if his journey through the legal system is over.