It is a classic case of a miscarriage of justice. The justice system in America has constantly been questioned from the Scottsboro Boys to the Central Park 5, and everyone in between and beyond. The racial profiling and stereotyping of black men leading to wrongful convictions persist to this day and despite some that are exonerated, we have not even begun to scratch the surface. The evidence relied on to wrongly convict black men of crimes like rape becomes ludicrous with every case that comes to light. The latest installment is a conviction for a criminal offence where all the evidence that was available was a woman’s dream.
In 1987 on a summer night, an unidentified Denver woman went drinking with 3 men. The events following their night out are unclear, but somewhere in the night, it was alleged that she was raped and severely beaten at her home. She was badly beaten to the extent of losing her sight in one eye. Initial reports by the victim indicated that she could not identify her attacker because it was too dark. This statement was later changed when she alleged that it was one of the 3 men who had assaulted and raped her. Her narrative then changed again a day and a half later, when she alleged that it was her neighbor, a black man called Clarence Moses-El. The victim stated that she knew it was him because she saw him in her dream. This dream and the victim’s testimony were the only evidence that was relied on in ensuring a conviction on the charges of rape and assault. As a result, Clarence Moses-El was sentenced to a 48-year prison term in 1988.
Since his imprisonment, Clarence maintained that he is innocent and tried to prove this fact but was mostly unsuccessful. In 2013, he received a letter from LC Jackson, one of the 3 men who was out drinking with the rape victim that fateful night in 1987. Jackson was in prison for raping a mother and daughter in 1992, the crime scene was less than 2 miles from that of 1987.
Jackson attested that he beat the victim and had sex with her but alleges the sex was consensual. Despite this confession, the District Attorney’s (DA) office refused to retry the case, alleging that the confession was implausible. The DA argued that Jackson made up the confession because he did not think he would be charged, and he wanted to help Clarence.
The other evidence that had been present since the beginning of the case was blood samples of the suspected offender collected in the rape kit. The rape kit had never been tested due to the backlog of untested rape kits nationwide. There National Institute of Justice estimates the backlog of untested rape kits to be around 400, 000. This backlog is the reason some perpetrators are free and sometimes the wrong person is incarcerated. The rape kit in the Clarence case was destroyed by the Denver police department.
In the mid-90s Clarence worked with Barry Scheck of the innocence project. A court order was obtained to test the rape kit. However, the untested rape kit remained in Denver police custody and despite being labeled, “do not destroy” it was destroyed. The Denver police department was investigated for destroying evidence but was later cleared.
The Jackson confession is what spurred Clarence’s legal team to file a motion for a retrial. In 2015 Judge Gerdes made a ruling to vacate Clarence’s conviction and grant him a new trial. In 2016 a jury acquitted Clarence of all charges in the case. Clarence then filed a petition for exoneration which was not opposed by Colorado Attorney-general. The Colorado exoneration act gives wrongly convicted individuals $70, 000 for each year they spent behind bars. Clarence was given $2 million as compensation for the time he spent in prison.
This example of a mistrial, and many others that never see the light of day, make the case for an intense overhaul of the American justice system and its treatment of black men. It is astounding that in a criminal case that requires the evidentiary burden to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, a conviction was made on a dream. The conviction was based on the victim’s testimony and her dream that she used to identify Clarence. The compensation that is paid out will never give back the possibility of living a full life.
Clarence lost his mother and close relatives during his time in jail, he missed the opportunity to raise his children and other life experiences. The money will never remedy the loss that has been suffered. There is a need to hold the officers and protectors of the law to account when such grave injustices occur. The exoneration process can be avoided if thorough investigations are done. Clarence still has a pending lawsuit against the City and County of Denver, the Denver District Attorney’s office, and others.