A Baltimore jury convicted a man Friday who had been acquitted in four previous sexual assault trials, a win for prosecutors who revived the discarded case in a bid to secure an elusive conviction.
Nelson Bernard Clifford, a convicted sex offender, was found guilty of two counts of third-degree sex offense. While the counts individually carry a maximum sentence of 10 years, prosecutors say Clifford faces an enhanced penalty — up to life in prison — because of prior convictions.
Prosecutors said that on Sept. 30, 2007, Clifford broke into a woman's home in the Barclay neighborhood, tied her hands with a belt and sexually assaulted her. Clifford also was found guilty of theft for stealing the victim's laptop and $45, prosecutors said.
Clifford was first charged in the case in 2008, but the charges were dropped because of due to weak evidence. After he was acquitted multiple times, prosecutors re-charged the case in 2013.
Like his other trials, Clifford took the stand this week and said the encounter was consensual. He claimed the victim, a second-grade teacher, was a prostitute who he paid for sex.
Assistant State's Attorney Jennifer McAllister told jurors in closing arguments Thursday that Clifford told them a "desperate story" crafted with the benefit of reviewing the state's evidence.
"The rebuttal of consensual sex as a defense used by individuals with a pattern of predatory behavior has been a high priority for my office," State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement.
"I applaud the brave survivor in this case for coming forward and testifying about this heinous offense. It is never easy for anyone to relive a crime committed against them, but it is especially hard for those who have been sexually assaulted. It was her courage that brought this victorious verdict."
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Clifford will be sentenced May 28.
Clifford had gone to trial four times since 2010. In each case, the women said he broke into their homes and bound and attacked them. Each time, he took the stand and claimed that the encounters were consensual, and was acquitted of the most serious charges.
Prosecutors were dealt a setback before the most recent case, after trying to enjoin it with another to show a pattern. Clifford allegedly attacked a woman and stole her phone, which was left behind at the scene of a second attack four days later. But Chief Judge Alfred J. Nance ruled the cases be tried separately. On the witness stand, Clifford acknowledged leaving the phone behind, but jurors had no idea it was stolen from another alleged victim.
Mosby highlighted Clifford's cases during her campaign, and has pushed unsuccessfully in the past two legislative sessions for bills that would allow prosecutors to introduce during trial prior accusations against serial sex offenders.
"While we were able to secure a guilty verdict in this case, we must still encourage our legislators in Annapolis to bring our predatory sexual assault laws in line with the federal statute," Mosby said.