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New Law May Allow Past Crimes To Be Brought Up In Rape Trials

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- A man prosecutors call a "serial rapist" was tried five times for attacking different women----but four times, he was acquitted. Prosecutors say it's because they weren't allowed to bring up his history of sexual offenses. Now they're trying to change that.

Meghan McCorkell has more on the push for a new law.

Prosecutors are pushing for a bill to allow previous sexual assault allegations to be brought up in criminal trials.

Shatia Lansdowne was inside her own home when investigators say Nelson Clifford broke in and sexually assaulted her.

"We had DNA evidence; my children were screaming on the 911 tape," Lansdowne said.

What the jury in her case didn't know: Clifford was accused of the same crime multiple times. He took the stand and claimed the sex was consensual and was acquitted.

"It was mind-blowing to me that he was constantly able to slip through the cracks of the justice system," she said.

"This individual had been accused of doing this to at least nine other women the same exact way," said City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby.

Now Mosby is pressuring state lawmakers to pass legislation prohibiting a court from barring evidence of a defendant's prior sexual offenses.

"If it's his word versus her word, then the jury doesn't know that this is a sexual predator and that's completely unacceptable," Mosby said.

Lawmakers have tried to pass similar legislation in the past.

Defense attorney Adam Ruther says it could present problems for judges and juries.

"You're not allowed to just paint with a broad brush and say, `Well, this person did all these other things, therefore they must have done this one.' That's not how the law's designed to work," Ruther said.

As for Lansdowne, her alleged attacker is now behind bars on another case.

"A guilty for one is a guilty for all and I felt vindicated even though it wasn't my case," she said.

Now she wants a level playing field for future victims.

Mosby says 10 other states have already passed similar laws.

Lawmakers tell WJZ the language in the bill is being reworked. It hasn't yet moved forward to a vote.

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