This is not a light week for progressive political groups in Colorado. Issues like control of the state Capitol, representation of hotly contested congressional districts, the state’s minimum wage, health care landscape and ballot initiative process – oh, and the presidency – are culminating after months of fundraising, canvassing, digital campaigning, long days and late nights.
But 32 such groups are taking the time to turn the spotlight on Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey.
ProgressNow Colorado is leading a coalition of 32 organizations in redirecting attention this busy newsweek to Morrissey’s retrial of Clarence Moses-EL, which begins Monday, the eve of the election. Crying foul on both the timing of the trial and Morrissey’s decision to continue prosecuting an apparently innocent man, ProgressNow and its partners are rallying their members to try to persuade the controversial DA to drop the case.
Clarence Moses-EL was convicted of a rape in 1987, partly because of the victim’s testimony that his identity as her assailant had come to her in a dream. He has always maintained his innocence, and while in prison, he raised money from other inmates to pay for DNA testing that he believed would exonerate him – a move that some see as beyond anything a potentially guilty person would do. As it turned out, the Denver Police had discarded all the DNA evidence by tossing a box marked “DO NOT DESTROY” in a dumpster. Later, the first person the victim named in her outcry – a man Morrissey’s office well knows is a convicted sex offender – confessed to having committed the assault for which Moses-EL was imprisoned for 28 years.
Moses-EL has been free since December 2015 when a judge ruled to lift his convictions. His story has been chronicled for 10 years by Colorado Independent Editor Susan Greene, whose latest piece about the case can be found here.
ProgressNow Executive Director Ian Silverii said he met Moses-EL at an ACLU dinner and marveled at his apparent contentment. “He’s not an angry guy,” Silverii said.
Moses-EL chuckled when he heard about Silverii’s reaction, and said that it wasn’t the first time. “You got a lot of people asking why I’m not angry,” he said. “I don’t have a need to be angry. Only thing is, I just want the truth out. That’s all.”
It is both Silverii’s admiration for Moses-EL’s character and his outrage at what he perceives as a miscarriage of justice that led ProgressNow Colorado and other organizations to make noise about the upcoming retrial and encourage others to do the same.
“Mitch Morrissey’s decision to re-try Clarence Moses-EL when all evidence points to his innocence amounts to reckless and unnecessary prosecutorial zeal,” said ACLU Colorado’s Legal Director Mark Silverstein.
Silverii also thinks the timing of the re-trial is fishy. “If you want to hide something, doing it the day before the election is a pretty good way to do it,” he pointed out.
ProgressNow has created and is circulating a petition to its statewide email list asking Morrissey to drop the case. It also created a website and a video that chronicles Moses-EL’s case and implores visitors to sign the petition. The petition received 200 signatures in an hour after the group sent the email.
Because the decision to petition Morrissey was rather impromptu, the group does not have a coordinated plan with its partners to raise awareness. But Silverii said that he believed many of ProgressNow’s partners, which range from Black Lives Matter 5280 to Colorado’s Interfaith Alliance to the ACLU, would also send the petition to their full statewide email lists in hopes of gathering enough signatures to make Morrissey reconsider his decision.
Lynn Kimbrough, the Denver District Attorney’s communications director, did not have much encouragement for those hoping Morrissey will drop the case. “The District Attorney and the deputy district attorneys who make decisions each day about the filing of cases and the disposition of cases do so based on facts and law and do not take into consideration general public opinion,” she said.
This is an unusual campaign for ProgressNow. Most of its work is on state legislative issues. The group gained national recognition for a 2013 digital campaign to increase awareness about the Affordable Care Act called “got insurance?” and was also a major player in a 2015 effort to recall members of the Jefferson County School Board.
But Silverii can’t recall a time ProgressNow got involved in an issue at the municipal level. There wasn’t much hand-wringing about whether its involvement in this particular issue was appropriate, though. “We talked about it for about five minutes,” he told The Independent.
“We live in a constitutional justice system that is supposed to presume innocence,” Silverii said when asked why opposing the retrial was so worthwhile. “This isn’t a partisan issue. It’s not about conservatives or progressives. It isn’t about anything other than a gross miscarriage of justice.”
Moses-EL said he was pleased to learn about other people getting involved and speaking up for him. “Based on the things that I have undergone for 29 years — I mean, you can’t just let something like that walk out of your view,” he said.
Photo Credit: Marie-Dominique Verdier