Civil rights activists joined forces with Denver clergy members today to make one last appeal to Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey to not re-prosecute Clarence Moses-EL in a sex assault trial set to begin Monday.
In his entreaty to Morrissey’s spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough, Pastor Terrence Hughes of the Denver Ministerial Alliance did not mince words.
“We feel compelled to challenge this decision [to continue prosecuting Moses-EL] because it’s almost as if, once a man has been incarcerated, even if there are circumstances as well as evidence that prove him innocent, the system wants to make him remain a slave, a prisoner, for life.”
Moses-EL, 60, was convicted of a rape in 1987 based essentially on one piece of evidence: 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 $1,000 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. Denver Police placed the evidence in a box they marked “DO NOT DESTROY.” And then, in defiance of a court order to send the evidence for DNA testing, police threw the box in a dumpster.
About 20 years later, while Moses-EL was still in prison on the case, the first man the victim named in her outcry – a man Morrissey’s office knows well is a convicted sex offender – confessed to having committed the assault for which Moses-EL was doing time. Moses-EL appealed his conviction based on that revelation and a judge vacated his convictions last December after he had spent 28 years behind bars.
Morrissey is insisting on retrying Moses-EL despite the alternate suspect’s confession.
In an effort led by ProgressNow Colorado, the ACLU of Colorado, the NAACP and faith leaders from Denver’s Interfaith Alliance, the Denver Ministerial Alliance joined with dozens of other community groups this week to petition Morrissey to drop the charges before the trial starts on Monday. They gathered about 2,200 petitions in two days, which they carried to Morrissey’s office building in a big box marked “DO NOT DESTROY.”
Activists and clergy held a rally outside Denver’s Wellington Webb city building this afternoon calling for the DA to back down from what they see is his stubborn resistance to let go of the case. Then, followed by a phalanx of reporters and camera crews, they passed through the city’s metal detectors and into the elevators to the DA’s office suite. They asked to speak with Morrissey, but spokesperson Lynn Kimbrough said he wasn’t available. She agreed to “graciously accept” the petitions and “bring their feedback back to the office,” but added that she was unable to comment on the trial because it was already underway.
Jury selection had started hours earlier in a Denver District courtroom down the street. Moses-EL was in the courthouse all day and missed the rally on his behalf.
Roshan Bliss of the Denver Justice Project told Kimbrough, “We’re looking forward to your office canceling that trial. He doesn’t need to be tried again.”
“The trial is underway,” Kimbrough said in response. “And it is open to the public. So…anyone who would like to attend can do so.”
As it turned out, that wasn’t the case. A bailiff wouldn’t allow anyone other than prospective jurors into Judge Kandace Gerdes’ courtroom 5B.
After helping deliver the box of petitions, Bliss said Morrissey’s handling of the Moses-EL’s and other cases is why his organization tried to recall Morrissey in June 2015. Earlier that year, civil rights activists were outraged when Morrissey didn’t criminally charge Denver Police officers in the shooting death of 17-year-old Jessie Martinez.
“It’s unconscionable,” Bliss said.
Tammy Garrett-Williams of the regional NAACP chapter expressed a sense of incredulity about the nearly three decades Moses-EL spent in prison for a crime he likely didn’t commit. She and others at today’s rally say Morrissey is out of line to re-prosecute Moses-EL rather than letting him move on with his life.
“To continue to subject him to these harsh treatments and treat him as a slave, so to speak, by trying to re-incarcerate him… we just want justice for him,” she said. “Just like [Morrissey] walks out of this office and goes home, Clarence Moses-EL deserves that, too.”
Moses-EL went free on bond in December. He since has worked two jobs, become active in his Moorish Science faith community and tried to make up for lost time with the 12 grandchildren he never wanted to see him behind bars.
ProgressNow Colorado launched the unprecedented “emergency campaign” against the retrial earlier this week. The petition drive carried out by that group, the ACLU, the Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, Denver’s Interfaith Alliance and more than two dozen other groups gathered 2,200 signatures in two days.
The faith leaders who spoke at today’s rally view Moses-EL’s case as a gross miscarriage of justice and see a moral imperative in speaking out against it.
“When I heard the story, I just thought it was unbelievable, and think that underlying it is an unwillingness to admit that mistakes were made,” said Reverend Amanda Henderson, the Interfaith Alliance’s executive director. “We need to call those out, say that mistakes were made, and right this wrong.”
Photo Credit: Marie-Dominique Verdier