Please note that the Denver Innocence Project was established in 2016, and DIP did not assist in the following cases. These cases are listed to demonstrate that wrongful conviction cases happen everywhere, including here in Colorado.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere
― Martin Luther King Jr.
Convicted of rape based on a dream
In 1987, in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver, a woman went out drinking with three men. The next morning the woman woke up and realized that she had been sexually assaulted, but due to her level of intoxication, she had no memory of the incident. The woman gave the police the names of the three men she had been drinking with, and told the police that her attacker was most likely one of those men. One of the men she named was LC Jackson. Clarence Moses-EL was not one of the men she named. The police never questioned any of the reported three men she named.
A couple of days later the woman told police that she had a dream, and in her dream the identity of her attacker was revealed, and that it was her neighbor, Clarence Moses-EL. Despite the fact that the blood type of the attacker did not match Clarence Moses-EL, he was convicted and sentenced to 48 years based on the victim’s dream.
In 1995 with the help of Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project in New York, the court ordered for the DNA to be tested. Moses-EL and fellow prisoners who believed in his innocence, raised $1000 to have the DNA tested. Denver police packaged the evidence including the victim’s rape kit, clothes and bed sheets, and sealed it in a box and marked it in big letters “DO NOT DESTROY.” The police then permanently destroyed the evidence by throwing the box in a dumpster. A judge ruled that the mistake was not grounds for a new trial.
In 2013, Moses-EL received a letter from another prisoner admitting to the crime. The confessor, LC Jackson, was one of the people whom the victim originally identified to police in 1987 as a possible attacker. LC Jackson was housed in the same detention facility as Mosses-EL and was doing a double life sentence for a 1992 double rape of a mother and her 9-year old daughter who lived about a mile and a half away from the first woman’s home. The blood type of the attacker matched that of LC Jackson.
The Denver District Attorney’s Office did not interview LC Jackson until eighteen months after his confession became public, and fought vigorously to prevent Moses-EL from receiving a new trial despite, LCJackson’s confession and matching blood type. Despite the Denver District Attorneys’ objection, a Colorado judge vacated the convictions and ordered the DA to either retry the case or drop the charges. Moses-EL was released in December 2015, but the Denver District Attorney decided to retry him, and he was found not guilty on all counts in November 2016.
Community activist Shareef Aleem points out, "If you go back 20 years, there was a box in Denver Police evidence that said, "DO NOT DESTROY". They destroyed it anyway. Moses should have been out 20 years ago.”
Innocence Project helps clear of rape and murder charges by DNA evidence
Robert Dewey served 17 years for a 1994 Grand Junction rape and murder that he did not commit. In 2007, Dewey’s post-conviction attorney persuaded the Innocence Project of New York to pay for DNA tests which exonerated Dewey by proving that he did not commit the crimes. The results of the DNA indicated that the true killer was another individual already incarcerated in Colorado for a different rape and murder. Thanks to the efforts of the Innocence Project and his post-conviction attorney, Dewey was finally released and exonerated in 2012. His life sentence had barred him from vocational training in prison, thus he had no job skills when released. He left the courtroom with an apology and a handshake from prosecutors in Mesa County.
Woman charged with murder and sentenced to life, despite the fact that the crime for which she was convicted took place while she was already in police custody
At only 22 years of age, Lisl Auman was convicted in 1998 of the felony murder of a police ofﬁcer. On November 12, 1997, Auman and four others went to her former boyfriend’s house where she used to reside to retrieve some of her belongings - a comforter, the rest of her clothes, her mandolin, jewelry, dog food, a camcorder, and her snowboard. The police suspected them of burglary, and a high speed chase pursued. The driver, a skinhead high on meth whom Auman first met the night before, shot an officer and then turned the gun on himself - all while Auman was already handcuffed in the back of a police vehicle.
Although Auman was already handcuffed in police custody before the murder took place, she was convicted under Colorado’s “draconian” felony murder rule. The Colorado felony murder law states that when someone is murdered during or after the commission of certain felonies, including burglary, everyone present during the first felony is guilty of the murder, whether they caused it or not. The statute was established in England in the 1700s and abolished there in 1957 for being too severe. Colorado case law state that “the purpose of the felony murder statute is to hold a participating robber accountable for a nonparticipant's death, even though unintended, as long as death is caused by an act committed in the course of or in furtherance of the robbery or in the course of immediate flight therefrom”. People v. Raymer, 662 P.2d 1066 (Colo. 1983).
In 2001, Auman wrote a letter to gonzo journalist and author and Colorado resident, Hunter S. Thompson, to tell him that his books were banned in her women’s correctional facility. Thompson had remembered reading about Auman’s case, and wrote her back saying that maybe he can write a story about it and stir some interest. Later that year, on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol, Thompson said, “This is not about Lisl, really. This is about you. What happened to her could happen to anybody. It’s easy to get sucked into the system, even when you’re innocent. My response has always been to fight savagely. I’m going to stay in this thing until she’s out and until the felony-murder law is overturned.”
Besides Hunter S. Thompson, the case drew national attention from other celebrities such as Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, and Benicio Del Toro. In 2005, a new trial was ordered, and instead of a new trial, Auman agreed to a plea guilty to a burglary and accessory and have the felony murder charge dropped.
Convicted of murder based on sketch drawings of a 15-year old boy
Timothy Masters was just fifteen years old when the body of a 37 year old female was found near his trailer park in Fort Collins. Timothy allowed police to search his room and school locker, and they found 2,200 pages of violently misogynistic writings and drawings and a collection of knives. No physical evidence was ever linked to Masters and the crime scene. At trial, an expert witness forensic psychologist, concluded, without having ever spoken with Masters, that some of the drawings represented Masters reliving the crime. Although some of the jurors had doubts about his guilt, they convicted him based on his drawings and writings.
In 2008, special prosecutors assigned to the case agreed that critical information was not turned over to the original defense team and that the lead detective perjured himself during the trial. The defense team also provided DNA evidence that exonerated Masters.