How many times does a man need to be arrested for rape and attempted rape before a jury convicts him? More than four, apparently. Registered sex offender Nelson Clifford has stood trial four times for in the past two years for separate sexual assault charges but has been acquitted by a jury each time.
Despite ample DNA evidence and witness testimony for each trial, Clifford has been able to beat the charges with the same defense every time. He alleges that all of the sex acts were consensual and that the women lied because they had boyfriends or were mad at him over a financial issue.
Unfortunately, Clifford seemed particularly convincing on the stand. While the female victims were shaky and justifiably emotional during testimony, Clifford oozed confidence. According to the Baltimore Sun, Clifford “detailed his encounters with the women as typical, even clumsy, sexual escapades of a single man. At some points, jurors giggled as he went point-by-point describing his version of courtship and intercourse.” How nice that the jurors were able to find moments of levity in an otherwise dour rape trial.
Hello, rape culture! Women can pour their hearts out about a traumatic experience, but when a smooth-talking man disputes their testimony, that’s a sufficient reason to sway the jury. Surely all of these women must have asked for or at least secretly wanted to have sex and are now just trying to cause trouble for this man.
To enhance his defense, Clifford’s attorney would ask the women about why they appeared “nervous” on the stand to call their credibility into question. In his testimony, Clifford would claim he previously met these women at strip clubs or had offered to pay them for sex to portray them as loose and immoral.
Evidently, the jury took Clifford’s allegations that one of the victims was just a “slut” more seriously than the victim’s claims that she was tied up and forced to perform oral sex as he held a knife to her. You know how women are always falsifying rape accusations! (Actually, it’s that assertion that’s fabricated; in fact, maybe only 5% of rape allegations are untrue.)
Although the prosecution would probably have more luck lumping the cases together to show a pattern, Baltimore judges have blocked this strategy. Still, the State Attorney has faced criticism for failing to secure even one conviction against Clifford despite the wealth of evidence.
Given the outcome, one of the victims now regrets ever reporting the crime. “I was starting to slowly but surely get my life back together, and it reopened the wound to see his face and go up against him and not get justice,” she said. Considering that most don’t report sexual assault, stories like this one certainly don’t encourage more women to speak out and hold their rapists responsible.
The good news – if there is any good news in this mess – is that Clifford is currently in jail. Though still not found guilty of any crime (other than stealing $60 from one of his victims), Clifford awaits trial for a fifth sexual assault case. Four trials may not have been enough, but hopefully five will be the magic number that convinces a jury to weigh the actual evidence this time.
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