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State's Attorney Mosby not personally prosecuting sex offender

Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore State's Attorney.
Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore State's Attorney. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

As a candidate for Baltimore State's Attorney, Marilyn Mosby said the city's then-top prosecutor needed to personally take on the case of Nelson Bernard Clifford – a sex offender who has been acquitted at trial four times on sex offense charges since 2010.

"The State's Attorney must rise to the occasion and try Nelson Clifford's fifth rape trial," Mosby said in an email to campaign supporters in October 2013 . "Win, lose or draw, women in Baltimore deserve to know that the State's Attorney's [sic] is fully invested in the outcome of this case."

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Yet as the office prepares to try Clifford twice more, Mosby – the new State's Attorney - is not personally handling the case.

Her office declined to comment, citing a gag order in the case. But like Mosby's predecessor, assistant state's attorneys are trying the case instead.

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Clifford's case is scheduled for trial in late April.

Also this week, Mosby has decided against breaking the lease for office space for the prosecutor's office, which was another issue she raised during her campaign.

She had criticized then-State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein for moving prosecutors out of their offices in the downtown courthouse and signing a 10-year lease for a nearby "luxury" high-rise building, a move she mocked with a hashtag on Twitter, "#BernsteinsMoney."

She never promised to break the lease — only to explore whether it was possible. But she had said she hoped the money saved would fund a "modern, state of the art" witness protection unit.

In a statement Thursday, Mosby said her review of the lease had been completed and that she determined the space within the courthouse is no longer available and that "moving to an alternative location is either more expensive, too far away, or would require a buildout of the space."

"This would require an additional cost to taxpayers and does not include the liquidated damages of the lease that was entered into under the previous administration," the statement said.

Prosecuting Nelson Clifford was part of a larger vow by Mosby to push for sexual assault legislation in Annapolis that would allow prosecutors to introduce evidence of similar crimes previously committed by sexual assault suspects. Mosby partnered with Del. Aisha Braveboy to introduce legislation that would change Maryland law in that area to mirror the federal rules of evidence, which are also used in several states. The bill died in a legislative committee without being put to a vote.

The State's Attorney's Office said the bill is being drafted again. Mosby will have to find a new sponsor, as Braveboy ran unsuccessfully for Attorney General and is no longer in the House of Delegates.

Clifford, a registered sex offender stemming from a 1997 conviction for sex offense, has been charged at least six times since 2007 with cases in which authorities said he broke into women's homes or apartments and sexually assaulted them.

Four of those cases have gone to trial since 2010, and in each case Clifford took the stand and said the sex was consensual. Jurors heard 911 calls of the victims screaming for help, and DNA matched Clifford to the crimes. But his account on the stand introduced enough doubt to win acquittal.

Before his fourth acquittal, two cases against him that had been dropped in 2007 due to weak evidence were revived by prosecutors in a move to keep him behind bars.

Assistant State's Attorney Jennifer McAllister said in court Wednesday that prosecutors' strategy in bringing back the cases was that they would be tried together to show a pattern. But Chief Judge Alfred Nance denied that motion and the cases will be prosecuted separately like the cases before them.

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