Curious case of Clarence Moses-El: Colorado man walks free after 28-years

Mr. Moses-El was convicted in 1988 of rape and assault charges based on the victim's identification of him which she said came to her in a dream.

David Zalubowski/AP
Flanked by his wife Stephanie Burke (l.) Clarence Moses-EL jokes with an unidentified man after Mr. Moses-EL's release from the Denver County jail late Tuesday, in Denver. Moses-EL was convicted of rape in 1988 after the victim said his face came to her in a dream but he has maintained his innocence.

A Denver man who spent 28 years in prison after being convicted of a rape he says he didn’t commit was released on bond Tuesday after a judge threw out the guilty verdict in the case.

Clarence Moses-El was convicted in 1988 of rape and assault charges after the victim identified Mr. Moses-El, who was her neighbor, as her assailant, telling police his face came to her in a dream.

The bizarre twist in the case came after the man the woman had initially identified confessed in 2012 to having sex with her at the same time that night. 

His lawyers said the victim had initially named three other men that she had been drinking with that night in 1987 as possible assailants, noting the case against Moses-El had never been strong.

On Tuesday, he walked out of the Denver County Jail surrounded by his wife and grandchildren after supporters raised a $50,000 bond to secure his release.

“This is the moment of my life, right here," Moses-El told reporters, surrounded by his family, including three of his 12 grandchildren he met for the first time Tuesday.

“I'm at a loss for words. I just want to get home to my family,” he said.

While he had long maintained his innocence, Moses-El faced an uphill battle in challenging his conviction, which the judge said on Tuesday would likely result in an acquittal if the case went to trial again.

He eventually won representation from lawyers for the Innocence Project, which aims to take on cases of inmates who have been wrongfully convicted. 

After he won a legal bid for DNA testing of the victim’s clothing and body swabs in order to challenge his conviction, Denver police said they had thrown the evidence away, insisting they had not seen any notice from prosecutors to preserve it. 

The case sparked legislation to preserve DNA evidence for a defendant’s lifetime in major felony cases, which was opposed by the governor, a former Denver prosecutor.

After exhausting all his appeals, in 2012, an inmate serving time for two separate sexual assault convictions wrote to Moses-El claiming he had sex with the victim that night and had physically assaulted her.

The inmate, LC Jackson, "consistently stated that he could not believe it when he heard that Mr. Moses-EL was accused of raping (the victim) because he was the person who had sex with (her) on the night – and at the time – in question," court documents show.

But the prospect of a new trial could still be on the horizon. Prosecutors have said they are still considering whether to retry Moses-El, considering the age of the case and the availability of witnesses.

Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said in a statement that he has not conceded that Moses-El was wrongly convicted.

Mr. Morrissey and Moses-El’s lawyers dispute whether Mr. Jackson – who was originally named as one of the three possible assailants by the victim – recanted his confession.

According to Judge Kandace Gerdes's order calling for Moses-El’s release, Jackson reaffirmed the confession during a hearing this summer, The Denver Post reports.

"We're hoping (officials in the district attorney's office) look at the evidence and decide there is no point in retrying an innocent man," Eric Klein, one of Moses-El's attorneys told the Post.

For Moses-El, the 28-year sentence has been a long road. He said his spirituality sustained him during the sentence.

“And my innocence," he said Tuesday. “That's what really kept me going.”

"I'm just glad to be home,” he added. “That surpasses a whole lot of things right now.”

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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