David Zalubowski / AP

Colorado man affirms innocence as retrial considered for sexual assault

Clarence Moses-EL served more than half of a 48-year sentence that was overturned in December due to new evidence

DENVER, Colo. — Clarence Moses-EL met his three grandsons for the first time last December, when he was released from prison after serving 28 years for a sexual assault he says he did not commit. On the steps of the jail, the boys wrapped their arms around his legs and looked up at their beaming grandfather. Moses-EL had insisted that they not see him in jail and know little about him. "I didn't want them to experience that. People ask, 'Who is your granddad?' 'My granddad is a jailbird'."  

Moses-EL had served half of a 48-year sentence when a handwritten confession letter was delivered to him. "I have a lot in my heart," it said. "Have them come up and see me. It's time." The note was signed "L.C." 

L.C. Jackson was a friend of both Moses-EL and the victim. Jackson was already in prison for a separate rape when he wrote the letter and admitted to investigators that in 1987 he had sex with the victim, then attacked her; Moses-EL was not the perpetrato. A judge has since overturned Moses-EL's conviction and ordered a probe, citing the letter and inconsistent blood evidence presented at Moses-EL's trial.

Today, Moses-EL is out on $50,000 bond waiting for the Denver district attorney to decide whether he will retry the case. "I didn't do it. And they know that," Moses-EL said about the possibility of a retrial.

One of the crucial pieces of evidence at his 1988 trial was the victim's word that she had a vision of him attacking her while she was in a coma. The eventual confessor, Jackson, was never interviewed about the assault despite the fact that the victim named him and two other men before she slipped into unconsciousness. 

The entire time he was behind bars, Moses-EL proclaimed his innocence and never stopped fighting for justice. When DNA technology advanced, he didn't have the funds to have the rape kit from his case analyzed. Other inmates stepped up and collected their own money to pay for it. Tragically, the rape kit sat for so long at the police station that it was thrown out. 

If there was a time for Moses-EL to give up, that was it. Over a decade later came the confession from Jackson. But the revelation may not be the smoking gun Moses-EL’s attorneys say it is. In a statement, district attorney Mitch Morrissey said Jackson admitted to investigators that "he lied and made the confession up." Jackson did recant the confession to investigators, but later testified under oath that he meant it after all. 

Morrissey also claims that the details Jackson gave about having sex with the victim are "implausible and not consistent with the brutal beating that resulted in the serious injuries she suffered."

Since the case was overturned, district attorney investigators have been jogging the decades-old memories of witnesses and the victim herself, who stands by her original story. Next week, the district attorney will announce his decision about whether or not to retry Moses-EL.  

"The fact that the DA's office has not dismissed the case is disappointing, to say the least," said Moses-EL's current attorney, Eric Klein.

Though he's out of jail, learning about cellphones and how to live with his wife Stephanie again, Moses-EL says he is not a free man. He wears an ankle bracelet that monitors his movements. He must stay inside his home from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. 

Still, Moses-EL insists that he doesn’t hold any grudges and is hopeful for justice.

"When I came out, I wanted to kiss the ground. I didn't come out bitter. I didn't come out angry," he said.

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