Clarence Moses-EL – exonerated last year after spending 28 years in prison for an attack he didn’t commit – has sued the city of Denver and a wide swath of former officials, including former Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, who fought for years to keep the truth in the case from coming to light.
The federal civil rights lawsuit, filed Friday morning in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, accuses the Denver police department of failing to adequately investigate the 1987 rape and assault in the city’s Five Points neighborhood, and for arresting Moses-EL without probable cause. Years after his conviction, after he won a court order and raised $1,000 in prison to test DNA samples in the case, police took the box of evidence marked “DO NOT DESTROY” and tossed it in a dumpster.
Mayor Michael Hancock’s office said this morning that it hadn’t yet been served with the complaint and will respond once it sees and has time to evaluate it.
The lawsuit slams the district attorney’s office, dating back to the tenure of former DA Norm Early, for negligently prosecuting Moses-EL solely on the basis of a statement by the victim who, after having first identified a man named LC Jackson as her assailant, claimed Moses-EL’s identity as her attacker came to her in a dream.
It takes special aim at Morrissey and his aides for, years after the first trial, using their political power to orchestrate a misinformation campaign designed to deny Moses-EL the right to prove his innocence in a new trial. Though his office was prosecuting Jackson for similar rapes not far from the scene of the attack for which Moses-EL was doing time, Morrissey refused to recognize Jackson’s confession in the case. After a judge threw out Moses-EL’s conviction in 2015, Morrissey insisted on retrying him.
Jackson took the stand and admitted to the attack during the November 2016 re-trial, and the jury found Moses-EL innocent.
The lawsuit asserts that Morrissey was motivated more by a political desire to cover up his office’s and the city’s snafus in Moses-EL’s wrongful conviction “than a desire to bring an offender to justice.” It accuses him of the “knowing and intentional, or reckless disregard for the truth” and of “spreading false information concerning Mr. Moses-EL’s case and guilt.” Moses-EL, 62, has taken the long view in his case.
“Justice and the truth have a way of coming to light, even if it takes 30 years to do so,” he said as his lawyers at the Boulder-based Johnson & Klein law firm prepared the suit.
The 98-page legal complaint chronicles the in and outs of a legal odyssey that, at several points since Moses-EL’s arrest in 1987, has been stranger than fiction. I’ve followed this case since 2006, first for The Denver Post and then for The Colorado Independent. The details are encapsulated here. It is, hands down, the grossest miscarriage of justice I’ve ever reported.
In addition to naming the city and Morrissey personally, the lawsuit also names:
*Bonnie Benedetti, former chief deputy DA whom Morrissey dispatched to retry the case despite a confession by LC Jackson and other clear evidence of Moses-EL’s innocence
*Former Deputy DA Robin Whitley, Morrissey’s friend who originally prosecuted the case
*Lynn Kimbrough, Morrissey’s longtime spokeswoman
*Jeff Carroll, currently an investigator in the DA’s office who, evidence shows, tried to intimidate Jackson into recanting his confession
*Dr. Kathren Brown-Dressel, a former forensic expert for the Denver Police Department and Colorado Bureau of Investigation who, evidence shows, specialized in blood evidence and botched the analysis of blood evidence in Moses-EL’s case
*Ann Perry, a forensic expert for Denver Police who, evidence shows, also botched analysis of blood evidence
*And the estate of James Huff, the police detective who investigated the case and signed a form allowing the DNA evidence to be destroyed
Before his death, Huff expressed his misgivings about Moses-EL’s case. “…I always have had doubts about this. I never could prove it either way,” reads his sworn statement from 2005. “This is one of those cases where I really wish there was DNA.”
The Independent is working to reach each of the defendants and will update this story with their responses.
Today’s complaint outlines the personal losses to Moses-EL who, imprisoned at 32 and released at 60, spent almost his entire adult life behind bars. It details how he missed the lives and deaths of two brothers, and the deaths of two sisters. And how his mother, Elouise, “passed away while Mr. Moses-EL was locked in a prison cell – not living to know that her son would one day walk out of prison and have his innocence vindicated.”
Elouise Moses told me in 2012 that “My son is innocent. He’s innocent.” “I’ve always known that and always will.”
The suit details Moses-EL’s long absence from the lives of his daughter, Tyice, and son, Anthony, who were four and three when he was arrested. Nearly three decades of incarceration caused him to miss their “first days of school, their first dances, their first jobs, and other important personal milestones and celebrations,” including the births and infancies of his twelve grandchildren.
The complaint outlines the physical harm, severe emotional distress and anguish to Moses-EL himself during the 28 years he spent “stripped of the various pleasures of basic human experience, from the simplest to the most important, which all free people enjoy as a matter of right.”
“He missed out on the ability to share holidays, births, funerals and other life events with loved ones, the opportunity to pursue a career, and the fundamental freedom to live one’s life as an autonomous human being,” it says. “He must now attempt to make a life for himself outside of prison without the benefit of 28 years of life experiences…”
The suit seeks not only economic, compensatory and punitive damages, interest on those damages and attorneys’ fees, but also a declaration that the defendants violated Moses-EL’s constitutional rights.