The recent ruling by Denver District Court Judge Kandace Gerdes to overturn the convictions of Clarence Moses-EL — the man held in prison for 28 years for a rape he maintains he did not commit — has become international news.
Closer to home, how Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey has handled the case is becoming an issue in the race to replace him. Among other legal failures in the case, officials threw DNA evidence labeled “DO NOT DESTROY” in a dumpster. Morrissey doggedly has sought to downplay new evidence, including confessions by the first man named in the attack— statements Morrissey denies amount to confessions. The judge this week relied on those statements in lifting the convictions.
So far, two out of the four candidates in the race to replace Morrissey once he’s term-limited out of office next year say they would not seek to re-try the case against Moses-EL if they become the next district attorney in Denver.
“I know and respect Judge Gerdes, who is a former prosecutor. If she made this decision, I am confident there is good grounds for it,” says Michael Carrigan, a criminal defense attorney at the Holland and Hart law firm who has said he’s running for DA because there’s a lack of trust among law enforcement and members of the community. “Whenever there’s destruction of physical evidence that could clear a defendant, we should all be troubled.”
He has said he would not retry the case.
Beth McCaann, a Democratic lawmaker and former Denver chief deputy district attorney who is familiar with the Moses-EL case, also said she would not try to seek another conviction if elected DA.
“I have been following it for over a year,” she said of the case in an e-mail to a constituent that was forwarded to The Colorado Independent. “I absolutely would not re-try him. I was surprised that the DA’s office fought the matter in the first place.” In a phone call, McCann confirmed that is her position.
Helen Morgan, a chief deputy Denver DA in Morrissey’s office who is running as an independent, declined to discuss the case because it’s currently pending in her office. “It would not be appropriate for me to comment on it,” she said.
Kenneth Boyd, also a prosecutor in the Denver district attorney’s office, similarly declined to comment through a campaign spokesman.
“He’s aware of what’s going on, he’s been following it, but he can’t comment on it because it’s a pending case,” said Chad Wilkins, Boyd’s campaign manager.
Boyd — the nephew of former Gov. Bill Ritter, who was Morrissey’s predecessor in the DA’s office — has said he’d consider keeping Morrissey on staff.
Last month, Boyd, Carrigan, and McCan appeared for a live video panel discussion about the DA’s race at the Open Media Foundation and The Colorado Independent. The election is next November.
Moses-EL was sentenced to 48 years in prison for rape in 1987 after a woman said her attacker’s identity came to her in a dream. She had initially identified a different possible suspect for the crime, according to court papers. That man, L.C. Jackson, later said he had rough sex with the victim, beat her, and was with her at the same time and place she said she was attacked. Moses-EL wanted his DNA tested against evidence found at the crime scene, but officials threw the evidence in a dumpster despite a court order that it be analyzed.
For nine years, Denver’s current DA Morrissey “steadfastly has refused to reopen Moses-EL’s case and denied that Jackson may have had a role in that attack,” according to previous reporting in The Independent.
Today, the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance held a press conference in Denver urging Morrissey not to retry the case and calling on the DA candidates to make their positions on the case publicly known. Pastor Terrance Hughes of New Covenant Christian Church/Alpha Omega Ministries said their stances are a litmus for how they’d perform in office. Any candidate who won’t commit to dropping Moses-EL’s case won’t win the support of Denver’s network of black churchgoers, he said.
He added: “We will not stand for anyone who will not stand for Mr. Moses-EL.”
Susan Greene contributed to this report