Denver advocates, family of man charged with murder delivers hundreds of letters to DA, saying he acted in self-defense

Tony Gorman/CPR News
Stephanie Clifton, center, mother of Stephan Long, speaks to a group of supporters asking Denver District Attorney Beth McCann to drop a remaining road rage-related murder charge against her son.

Updated May 17, 2024 at 2:30 p.m.

A trial date for a 26-year-old man facing a murder charge in an alleged road rage incident has been set for Dec, 4. Stephan Long, 26, made his first court appearance Friday morning. Wearing a cream-colored suit with a gold and blue tie. He was joined by his mother, Stephanie Clifton, family members and other supporters.

The day before, many of those same people gathered Thursday on the steps of the Wellington E. Webb Building in downtown Denver in support of a man charged with murder in an alleged road rage incident.

The Denver Justice Project delivered more than 500 signed letters from representatives, organizations, and community members calling on Denver District Attorney Beth McCann to drop the remaining charge against Stephan Long because they say he was defending himself at the time of the incident. 

Denver Justice Project founder and co-executive Alexander Landau said the 26-year-old father of two with another on the way is being denied justice that is typically given to white Coloradans when they use the “stand your ground” law. 

Colorado passed that law in 1985, known as the “Make My Day” law, which allows people who feel threatened in public to use lethal force without retreating first.

“We are here because we are giving you tools on how the community needs to fight for justice,” Landau said.  “We are here today to ask District Attorney Beth McCann to be on the right side of justice to leave a legacy that she can be proud of, that the Denver community can get behind.”

Landau cited a 2022 study from Duke University that said in self-defense cases, 34 percent of white people are more likely to claim self-defense when the victim is Black.  When the roles are reversed, the rate of justifiable homicide fell to only 3 percent.

“It's been horrible. It's been a complete nightmare. My son's never been in trouble before, so we are not used to all this court stuff and … just all of this,” said Stephanie Clifton, Long’s mother. “We've had a lot of heartaches. A lot of things happened this last year. It's been horrible for our family. 

In Friday’s court appearance, Judge Ericka Englert decided to allow Long to get a job while he awaits trial. 

Long was initially charged with two counts of first-degree murder after shooting and killing brothers Blake and Damon Lucas. He claims he was attacked.

According to court records, the shooting occurred on I-25 near 6th Avenue in Denver last June. Long told investigators he was driving north on I-25 when a vehicle drove next to him and the people in the car began yelling at him. The vehicle then pulled in front of him and cut him off.

Long said the passenger of the vehicle got out and began to grab and hit him through Long’s open driver’s window. Long said he grabbed a handgun and shot the man.  The driver of the same vehicle got out, and Long said he tried to drive away, but the driver held on to the open window. Long also shot him, which caused him to fall off the car.

Officers arrived on scene to find the first victim unresponsive and bleeding severely. He was taken to Denver Health Main Campus where he was pronounced dead. The second victim died on-scene.

Long was later arrested near 13th Avenue and Mead Street. 

One of the first-degree murder charges was dropped last October.  Long has been in home confinement since Oct. 5. He was only allowed to go in his backyard and to church since then.

Long’s attorneys, Clarke Cooper and Sara Wafai told the court that he secured employment with a youth sports organization that would require him to leave home. Prosecutors had argued that due to the nature of the trial, he should not be around children.

Tony Gorman/CPR News
Stephan Long arrives in court for his motion hearing Friday morning. The 26 year-old is facing a murder charge related to an alleged road rage incident in June 2023.

The judge set conditions of employment, including going to and from his job site from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Long must continue to wear his ankle monitor and can’t possess any weapons. Long’s trial date has been set Dec. 4th . Long’s attorneys pushed for a later trial date due to him expecting his third child in August.

The court will also decide whether Long voluntarily waived his Miranda Right and gave statements to an investigator.

The motion hearing is scheduled to continue June 21. 

Long’s attorneys declined to comment or grant interview requests with Long.

Denver District Attorney spokesperson Matt Jablow said in an email response that one of the murder  charges was dropped because prosecutors didn’t believe they could prove Long’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt on the charge after reviewing the evidence.

The supporters didn’t give the letters directly to McCann, whose office is in the World Trade Center building. They said they were met by the DA’s Chief Investigator Tim Garner, who said McCann would receive the letter Friday morning.

Clifton said she has faith that McCann will do the right thing.

“We're very spiritual people, so we'll just continue to pray. We're in this for the long haul. We're never going to give up,” Clifton said. “So, I'm going to continue fighting for my son. I'm going to continue voicing my opinion. I'm going to continue being out here in the community and praying.”