On guns and gun laws in Colorado
Following the shooting rampage at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood— the second mass shooting in that city within a month— reporters have looked at gun issues in Colorado. Our state “embodies the nation’s divide over gun control” read a headline in the LA Times by former Denver Post reporter Kurtis Lee. Writing for USA Today, Trevor Hughes found the shootings are “unlikely” to bring a major shift in gun laws here. But in Boulder County, top cops there are considering restrictions for open-carry laws, according to a Sunday front-page story in The Boulder Daily Camera by Alex Burness. I wrote for The Colorado Independent about how in El Paso County so many residents are applying for concealed carry permits right now that officials are handling 70 appointments per day.
The story of vacated convictions in the Clarence Moses-EL case in Denver is blowing up. Here’s what you need to know.
If you haven’t been following this case, now is the time. Here are the bullet points:
- Denver’s Clarence Moses-EL was convicted of rape in 1987 after a victim said his identity came to her in a dream. Moses-EL was sentenced to 48 years in prison. He maintained he did not do it.
- The victim had initially named other possible suspects in the attack, including a man named L.C. Jackson, according to court papers.
- While Moses-EL was in prison, L.C. Jackson, who was also in prison for unrelated rape charges elsewhere, wrote to Moses-EL and said it was time to bring “what was done in the dark to light.” Jackson has since said he was the one who attacked the victim at the time and place she said she was attacked.
- Mosesl-EL raised $1,000, largely from other inmates, to get his DNA tested against the victim’s rape kit.
- Denver officials threw the DNA evidence in a dumpster, despite it being marked “DO NOT DESTROY,” and despite a court order that the DNA be tested.
- Denver DA Mitch Morrissey has downplayed Jackson’s statements, saying they don’t amount to confessions.
- A judge this week seemed to disagree. After reviewing the new evidence and hearing from Jackson, the judge vacated Moses-EL’s convictions, and said he would likely be acquitted because of the new evidence if he ever got a new trial.
When the judge lifted the convictions this week the news blew up nationally and overseas.
“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,” wrote Michael Roberts in the Denver alt-weekly Westword this week.
That’s true. And she’s still doing it. Greene, who is my editor at The Independent, broke the story Dec. 14 about the judge’s ruling, obtained the court order lifting the convictions, and appeared on Democracy Now! to discuss the case she’s followed for years. The current district attorney’s handling of the case has become an issue in the four-way race to replace him. I wrote this week about how that’s playing out in the campaigns. Two of the candidates currently work in the Denver DA’s office.
A TV station in the Springs scores first news drone in Colorado?
This week, after I tweeted out a link to this story in the Colorado Springs alt-weekly headlined “Fox 21 News scores first commercial drone permit in the state,” a reporter in Telluride tweeted back, “First?” with a link to a story about commercial drone use in Colorado. Turns out the Fox21 claim is that they have the first news drone in the state. Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project has written about drone journalism recently, like why a Nebraska drone reporting instructor got his pilot’s license, and the CJR cover story “Eye in the sky” about drones being “cheap, simple, and potential game changers for newsrooms.” Anyone know of any other media organizations besides Fox21 using news drones in Colorado?
Upcoming 2015 legislative session: Year of the death penalty?
Will the next legislative session that begins in January be the one where Colorado has, as promised, its big statewide conversation about the death penalty? Talk has been bubbling up about it and bills are being drafted to deal with it. Some faces of death are emerging in the conversation. First, a big profile in 5280 magazine titled “Life after death” about Arapahoe District Attorney George Brauchler who prosecuted the Aurora theater shooting death penalty case. Then Colorado’s top public defender Doug Wilson gave a big interview to CU News Corps’ Carol McKinley talking a lot about death penalty costs. I’d earlier written about a lawmaker working on a bill this year that would give prosecutors an extra shot with a new jury if the first didn’t unanimously decide to execute a defendant. This week the topic boiled over on Twitter when Brauchler snarked on the Public Defender’s office about death penalty transparency. I used the opportunity to write an explainer at The Colorado Independent about what all the contention is about this year in regards to capital punishment and what to look for when the session starts next month. (Spoiler: Brauchler would campaign on a 2016 ballot measure asking voters to decide whether to keep or scrap the death penalty; Wilson wants to see a legislative task force or committee that examines the total costs of keeping capital punishment.)
Hey, a 21st-century open records law for Colorado
Last week I wrote for CJR about the work ex-Denver Post scribe Jeffrey Roberts has been doing for the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. This week he has a blog post up at the group’s website about how legislation planned for the next session would make it easier for reporters to obtain and analyze public records kept in databases and spreadsheets.
From his post:
Another common and frustrating scenario: You’re given database records as a PDF, which may or may not be machine readable. To conduct any kind of analysis, you’ll need to input the information by hand or risk using a file-conversion program that might not work so well. In essence, governments are forcing citizens to recreate public records that already exist and were generated though the expenditure of taxpayer funds.
Fortunately, two state lawmakers want to eliminate these access problems. Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, and Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, plan a 2016 bill that would guarantee the right to obtain public records in a “digitized database format,” if that’s how a government maintains the records. Any confidential fields of information would be removed.
Some other interesting news from around the state
In Loveland, the city council is questioning the use of lie detector tests during police internal affairs investigations. One thing I learned from Saja Hindi’s article in The Loveland Reporter-Herald: “In Colorado, polygraphs can be administered only if a person volunteers to take one.”
As young people flee Pueblo, the Pueblo Chieftain local newspaper profiles some who have stayed and who the paper thinks could be dynamic leaders of the community.
“The word ‘dam’ is used twice in the chapter in the Colorado Water Plan about ‘infrastructure,’ while ‘storage’ is used over 160 times.” That’s from a story at the Water Desk of Aspen Journalism, an online newsroom in the mountains, which has been “boiling down the Colorado water plan.”
Now for some news on the local media front from CJR’s United States Project
- Jackie Spinner on how Chicago’s Spanish language media is covering Laquan McDonald and Anita Alvarez.
- Molly de Aguiar and Josh Stearns on how investigative local reporting has a future—but it won’t look like the past.
- Timothy Pratt wrote about the Sheldon Adelson mystery ownership saga at The Las Vegas Review-Journal
- Anna Clark on how a small team in Wisconsin delivers investigative reporting to 10 Gannett papers.
- And I wrote about how a former Denver Post reporter now helps everyone in Colorado get public records.
Last Thing. She worked there. So she should know.
As someone who recently completed the State Integrity Investigation for Colorado— which gave our Independent Ethics Commission an ‘F’— I thought this guest column in The Colorado Statesman from the commission’s former executive director was really worth the read.
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