Nelson Bernard Clifford, 35, has been tried four times for rape. Despite DNA evidence, he has been acquitted every time. Prosecutors say this is because mentioning the previous assaults to a jury could result in a mistrial in the state of Maryland.
Charged with attempted rape, Clifford was acquitted for the fourth time on Sunday. City prosecutors say the trouble in convicting Clifford has to do with a 1977 court case, McKnight v. the State of Maryland. This precedent means prosecutors can’t lump together multiple charges into one trial, and “evidence as to each individual offense would not have been mutually admissible at separate trials.” The prosecutors can’t use evidence from a previous trial in the next trial.
It also gives defendants the right to face several trials for separate allegations.
In the case of a serial murderer, this precedent would mean in order to convict the accused of 10 murders, he would be granted 10 different trials with 10 different juries.
Prosecutors say a big problem for their case was that Clifford was accused of raping four women in the same manner. He allegedly entered the homes of victims late at night, left semen on their bedding, and claimed each sex act was consensual.
Juries are unaware of previous accusations against Clifford in each new trial. When they see a victim struggling to maintain her composure on the stand as she faces her alleged attacker, they are unaware of the three women before her who went through the same thing, according to an editorial in the Daily Free Press.
Prosecutors say they try to show juries a pattern of behavior, but city judges reject those attempts.
Marilyn Mosby, the challenger of Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein in the 2014 Democratic primary, said Tuesday that the Clifford case shows the "glaring need" for the General Assembly to change the rules.
“Once a jury is blocked from hearing about somebody like Clifford's past convictions, people like him are free to claim that the sexual assault was consensual, which significantly diminishes the prosecutorial impact of DNA evidence,” Mosby told the Baltimore Sun.
While Congress modified federal rules for rape cases two decades ago in an attempt to make it easier to convict, Maryland has not adopted such legislation.