State of Colorado Opposes Exoneree Clarence Moses-El

For Immediate Release
January 26, 2018
Contact: Gail Johnson of Johnson & Klein, PLLC, (303) 444-1885


Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman opposes petition for compensation filed by 62-year old man who spent more than 28 years in prison for crimes he did not commit before being found not guilty of all charges by a Denver jury at a 2016 retrial.

DENVER – Today the State of Colorado, acting through its Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman, filed a public opposition to Clarence Moses-EL’s request for compensation under a little-used law passed by the state legislature in 2013 to ease the transition back to society for those who are wrongfully convicted. In 1988, Mr. Moses-EL was convicted for a crime he did not commit: the brutal sexual assault and beating of a woman in her Denver home in the middle of the night. The prosecution’s only evidence against him was a flawed identification that came to the victim more than a day later, in a dream. Mr. Moses-EL always maintained his innocence. For years, he sought DNA testing, even raising funds from other inmates to pay for the tests he knew would set him free. But contrary to court order, before any DNA testing was conducted, the Denver Police Department destroyed the rape kit and all other biological evidence collected in the case, resulting in two more decades of wrongful incarceration for Mr. Moses-EL.

Mr. Moses-EL’s innocence was vindicated in 2016 when, at a retrial granted due to newly discovered evidence, a Denver jury acquitted him of all charges. His case now appears on the National Registry of Exonerations maintained by the University of California Irvine Newkirk Center for Science & Society, the University of Michigan Law School, and Michigan State University College of Law. More than a third of the cases listed on the Registry include mistaken eyewitness identifications. Additionally, research shows that African Americans, 13% of the U.S. population, are approximately 47% of the 1,900+ exonerations listed on the Registry.

In 2013, the Colorado legislature passed the state’s first compensation bill to provide monetary assistance to people who are wrongfully convicted. Motivating the law was the Colorado legislature’s findings that an innocent person who has been wrongly convicted of a felony and incarcerated: (i) has been uniquely victimized; (ii) has distinct problems reentering society; and (iii) should have an available means of redress beyond the existing tort remedies to seek compensation for damages. The law provides for $70,000 compensation per year of wrongful incarceration as well as tuition waivers for state colleges for the children of those wrongfully convicted. Mr. Moses-EL, age 62, has two children: a son and daughter, both adults.

“Today could have been a step forward in repairing the extreme harm that has been done to Mr. Moses-EL,” said his attorney, Gail Johnson. “Instead, our public officials chose to double down on injustice.”

In her opposition to compensation, filed in Denver District Court today, Attorney General Coffman acknowledged that the DNA evidence that could have “conclusively demonstrated” Mr. Moses-EL’s innocence is no longer available. She then says: “As a result, Petitioner must meet his burden based on currently known facts. Based on those facts, Petitioner cannot meet the high burden.”

“Attorney General Coffman opposes compensation by saying Mr. Moses-EL committed this rape—even though he was fully acquitted. The Attorney General then argues against compensation by saying that Mr. Moses-EL is unable to prove his innocence—even though the Denver Police Department destroyed the DNA evidence. This decision is the height of cruelty,” said Johnson.

Under the 2013 Colorado law, compensation would have been quick and easily determined in the amount set by the legislature if the State, acting through either the Attorney General or the Denver District Attorney’s Office, had simply filed a court document stating they agree that Mr. Moses-EL is eligible for compensation. Instead, by opposing the request, state officials are ensuring that there will be a third trial in this matter—again at taxpayer expense. If the State loses the trial, it will be required not only to provide Mr. Moses-EL with the compensation he is entitled to under the law, but also his attorneys’ fees.

The state’s refusal to recognize Mr. Moses-EL’s innocence ignores the following facts:

  • The nearsighted victim of the crime—who was attacked while sleeping and not wearing her glasses— initially told police on the scene that she did not see who attacked her because it was too dark inside her house, and the lights were out.
  • According to the victim, the physical description of the suspect that she provided to police immediately after the attack matched L.C. Jackson, a man she had been drinking with that night. That description did not match Mr. Moses-EL.
  • The victim repeatedly admitted under oath that before the dream that caused her to name Mr. Moses-EL, she had identified three other men, including L.C. Jackson.
  • Had the Denver police investigated L.C. Jackson as a suspect, they would have seen that he had been previously arrested and charged for a sexual assault.
  • Left to roam the community while Mr. Moses-EL sat behind bars, L.C. Jackson continued to sexually assault female residents of Denver.
  • In 2015, L.C. Jackson testified under oath that it was he, not Mr. Moses-EL, who had sex with and beat the victim on the night in question. Contrary to the Attorney General’s court filing today, Mr. Jackson was thoroughly cross-examined about the brief recantation note that District Attorney representatives obtained from him, and testified that they intimidated him into writing it. The false recantation note also claimed Mr. Jackson was home with his girlfriend at the time of the attack, but she has testified under oath—twice—that he was not home at that time. After hearing all this testimony, Denver District Court Judge Kandace Gerdes granted Mr. Moses-EL a new trial, finding a jury hearing the new evidence would probably acquit Moses-EL.
  • At the 2016 retrial, the defense presented a nationally recognized expert on eyewitness identifications, Dr. Daniel Reisberg, who testified that the victim’s identification of Mr. Moses-EL was one of the most unreliable he had ever seen.
  • Also at the 2016 retrial, University of Denver forensic biologist Dr. Phillip Danielson testified that blood typing results from the rape kit (based on testing done before it was thrown out by police) indicate that Mr. Moses-EL should be excluded as a suspect and that Mr. Jackson’s blood type is consistent with the samples of bodily fluid, including semen, collected from the victim.
  • The Denver District Attorney’s Office successfully litigated to prevent the jury that acquitted Mr. Moses-EL from learning about his efforts to prove his innocence, including his year-long court battle to obtain DNA testing, only to be thwarted by the Denver Police Department’s destruction of the evidence. Thus, no jury has ever heard the real truth of this case.

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann still employs the prosecutor who brought Mr. Moses-EL to retrial even after The Denver Post editorial board called for the case to be dropped due to weak evidence. Following an outpouring of public support for compensation for Mr. Moses-EL, including an online petition on that garnered more than 11,000 signatures in just a few days, District Attorney McCann decided to take no position on Mr. Moses-EL’s compensation request.

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