Court Frees NY Man After 26 Years : "Compelling Innocence" Case

Dewey Bozella was convicted twice of a brutal murder. He served 26 years. His conviction was overturned yesterday and he was immediately freed. DNA evidence did not play a role. What convicted him:

The prosecution relied almost entirely on the testimony of two men with criminal histories, both of whom repeatedly changed their stories and both of whom got favorable treatment in their own cases in exchange for their testimony.

What freed him: A retired police officer who had saved his file, "who said it was the only one he kept after retirement, figuring that the conviction was so problematic lawyers might want it someday." In the file was evidence the prosecution had failed to turn over to the defense. [More...]

After reviewing the material, Justice James T. Rooney of State Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 14 that Mr. Bozella had been wrongfully convicted. “This court does not lightly disturb a conviction in such a serious case as this,” Justice Rooney wrote, but “the court, without reservation, is firmly and soundly convinced of the meritorious nature of the defendant’s application.” He called the legal and factual arguments “compelling, indeed overwhelming.”

What did Mr. Bozella do in prison during those 26 years?

In prison, Mr. Bozella earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in theology, developed interests in the theater and became the light heavyweight boxing champion at Sing Sing. In 1996, he married a sixth-grade teacher, Treena Boone, whom he met when she was visiting her brother, an inmate at the prison.

The Innocence Project, which only takes cases in which there is DNA evidence, found private counsel to represent Mr. Bozella:

The group, after determining all the physical evidence had already been destroyed, asked the high-powered law firm of WilmerHale to handle the case on a pro bono basis. Ross E. Firsenbaum, a senior associate, said the firm’s lawyers had spent 2,500 hours — worth $950,000 at customary rates — on the case, the kind of representation almost never available to indigent convicts.

How many other innocent persons are languishing in our prisons because of withheld evidence, lying snitches, faulty eyewitness testimony, false confessions, junk science, lab fraud, ineffective counsel and other reasons not able to be discerned by DNA evidence, which either never existed or was not preserved -- or because they don't have the means to retain dedicated counsel like those the Innocence Project found for Mr Bozella?

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  • Display: Sort:
    good for him. (5.00 / 3) (#1)
    by cpinva on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 02:14:50 AM EST
    and good on the cop that kept the case file.

    however, what's missing is what punishment do the prosecutor's get? they apparently violated multiple ethics rules, putting an innocent man in prison for 26 years, and will, most likely, suffer nothing for it.

    it's good to have total immunity.

    I gotta wonder... (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by kdog on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 08:09:55 AM EST
    why the cop didn't try to do something as the guy was being tried...if he found the case against him so problematic.

    More ethical than the prosecutors though...better late than never.


    great story (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by Mikeb302000 on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 05:14:03 AM EST
    but, as you say the implications are frightening.  At least this is one wrong righted.

    Now what? (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by me only on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 08:23:33 AM EST
    Are the former prosecutors going to be charged with something?

    The ultimate nightmare. (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by lentinel on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 08:23:47 AM EST
    How could this happen in our country?

    This reminds me of "The Wrong Man" - a Hitchcock film.
    Or the even more frightening, "I Want to Live".

    I am reminded of Jeralyn's admonition to never volunteer any information without the advice of council.

    I understand that our CJ system (none / 0) (#6)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 12:20:50 PM EST
    is an adversarial system, but this just kills me:
    In the file was evidence the prosecution had failed to turn over to the defense.
    I assume, in our system, the defense is not similarly compelled to turn over evidence to the prosecution?

    Credit WilmerHale for Bozella's release (none / 0) (#7)
    by Jacob Freeze on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 06:51:24 PM EST
    Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP deserves most of the credit for reversing Bozella's conviction. They invested 2,500 billable hours in it.

    Fledgling lawyers who want to join a big operation could do a lot worse than WilmerHale, which has just about as long a tradition of public service as any law firm in the USA, beginning with partner Reginald Heber Smith's seminal article, Justice and the Poor, which virtually created Legal Aid way back in 1919.

    the denominator (none / 0) (#8)
    by diogenes on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:57:30 PM EST
    One case out of how many?  Langan and Levin, June 2002, found that just within the first three years of release, 1.2 percent of those who had served time for homicide were arrested for another homicide, and that does not count other crimes.  Changing the standard of evidence to free one hundred guilty murderers rather than jailing one innocent one may be no bargain.