DNA Testing Clears Colorado Man After Serving 18 Years

Robert Dewey, a Colorado inmate sentenced to life without parole for murder, left jail today a free man after serving 18 years of his sentence. DNA testing, using a technology not available at the time of his conviction, proved he was innocent.

Dewey is the 290th person to be exonerated nationwide on the basis of DNA evidence proving factual innocence -- meaning someone else committed the crime.

"I find that Mr. Dewey is factually innocent of the crimes of which he was accused of in this case," the judge said, noting Dewey had spent more the 6,000 days behind bars. "Mr. Dewey is now again a free man."


The testing (done on semen on a blanket)matched another man, Douglas Thames, who is already serving a life sentence for another murder. Thames is eligibile for parole in 2035 because he was a juvenile when convicted of that murder. Prosecutors intend to charge him with this crime.

Congrats to Colorado's Justice Review Project, which took on Dewey's case. Created in 2009 to review innocence claims based on DNA evidence, it is their first success. Prosecutors today also praised law enforcement's dedication in reinvestigating the offense.

Prosecutors said at the time of Dewey's trial that they faced problems with poor evidence handling by Palisade police officers, the Mesa County Sheriff's Department and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said today:

"This office prosecuted the best available suspect with the best available evidence... "Thank God we are able to be here today to release an innocent man."

Dewey is likely to file suit. In Colorado's other prominent case of wrongful conviction, Timothy Masters received about $10 million.

How do you put a price tag on 18 years of someone's life?

More on the Justice Review Project and the case from the Christian Science Monitor:

A joint program through the Colorado Attorney General's Office and the Denver District Attorney's Office, it is dedicated to reviewing some 5,000 rape, murder, and manslaughter cases in which DNA analysis might help identify wrongfully convicted individuals. So far, this is the first exoneration under the program.

Jason Kreag of the national Innocence Project and Colorado attorney Danyel Joffe have tried to establish Dewey's innocence since 2008.

Having the cooperation of the prosecutors was key in Dewey's exoneration, says Kreag. "They were convinced of Mr. Dewey’s guilt and they obviously believed in their case," he says. "But they were totally open to going where the evidence took them, and without their willingness to do that, we could have been in for several years of litigation to get to where we are today.... When prosecutors are willing to cooperate with defense, we can get to the truth much quicker."

How did Dewey get convicted in the first place?

When police discovered a shirt of Dewey's that had bloodstains on it, they were even more suspicious. The primitive DNA testing at the time showed the blood to be consistent with Dewey's and Taylor's, though the analyst at the time noted that it would probably be consistent with about 45 percent of the population.

DNA testing on evidence from the victim's home, meanwhile – including a semen stain and evidence from under Taylor's fingernails – was clearly not from Dewey. At the time, prosecutors decided it must have been from a second perpetrator whom they couldn't identify, and they went ahead with Dewey's trial on the assumption that he had attacked Taylor along with another unidentified man.

In other words, Dewey was a victim of the dubious "unidentified co-ejaculator" theory prosecutors like to present when the scientific evidence doesn't go their way.

That said, it does take courage and character to admit a mistake, and the Mesa County Prosecutor's office showed both by joining in the motion to free Dewey from prison.

< White House Defends Use of Drones | Zimmerman's Lawyer Explains Limits of Social Media Presence >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    I wonder why we don't take (5.00 / 4) (#1)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon Apr 30, 2012 at 09:13:22 PM EST
    the money spent prosecuting Edwards for a "who cares" kinda deal and use that to speed up developing the necessary material and people resources to review every case where DNA could make a difference??

    this is a first for me (5.00 / 4) (#3)
    by TeresaInPa on Mon Apr 30, 2012 at 10:00:08 PM EST
    This is the first time I have ever heard of a prosecutor doing anything but kicking screaming and throwing a temper tantrum while insisting that they person was guilty no matter what.  It has always seemed like they didn't wan't a silly thing like innocence to mess up their conviction record.
    Congratulations to Mr Dewey.  I hope he finds some way to make sense of the last 18 years of his life and a way to go on and find something meaningful to do.

    You need (none / 0) (#8)
    by jbindc on Tue May 01, 2012 at 05:54:58 AM EST
    To hang around a courthouse more often then.

    I guess so (none / 0) (#22)
    by TeresaInPa on Tue May 01, 2012 at 04:21:20 PM EST
    if it would restore my faith in the legal system I would do that.

    Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins (none / 0) (#24)
    by Rojas on Tue May 01, 2012 at 04:38:39 PM EST
    established conviction integrity unit 5 years ago.
    "We are doing something wrong with our criminal justice system and we need to fix it,"

    Take a look at (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by Angel on Tue May 01, 2012 at 08:03:59 AM EST
    this-one - it's in my backyard....for DA is being investigated for his role in this wrongful conviction.

    Here's the link.... (none / 0) (#12)
    by Angel on Tue May 01, 2012 at 08:05:55 AM EST
    For the politics of crime (none / 0) (#15)
    by Rojas on Tue May 01, 2012 at 10:47:37 AM EST
    Texas style, I recommend gritsforbreakfast

    And for those who see Texas as a vast wasteland, it appears John Bradley may just get his a$$ kicked out on the street.

    According to recent campaign disclsures, challenger Jana Duty has "lapped" incumbent William County District Attorney John Bradley in fundraising. She had $115,000 on hand as of the most recent reporting  period compared to $35,000 for the incumbent, reported the Austin Statesman.

    He has yet to "cash some of the (none / 0) (#16)
    by Angel on Tue May 01, 2012 at 11:09:45 AM EST
    checks" that have been passed his way so they aren't reflected on the current finance report, the lead isn't insurmountable at this point.  He still has the old guard firmly in his camp and those are the folks who are loaded with bucks.  She has a good chance to win, though, because this case has just opened the floodgates on the way business is done in Williamson county.  I'm hoping Duty whips his sorry butt.  

    The culture of (none / 0) (#21)
    by jondee on Tue May 01, 2012 at 02:14:27 PM EST
    "git somebody..anybody" exists in more places than just Texas, but a pathogically extreme form of it seems to have taken root down there..

    The "law west 'a the Pecos"-Judge Roy Bean syndrome. Some legacy. Sending people to Death Row as a crowd-pleasing, golden road to higher office..


    Oh, good grief (none / 0) (#25)
    by SuzieTampa on Tue May 01, 2012 at 08:13:10 PM EST
    How well do you know Texas? Roy Bean came from great poverty and was a career criminal who set himself up as a justice of the peace in Langtry. He was utterly corrupt, but he never got a lot of power. There is dispute whether he hanged anyone. Any Texas judge who admires him must not know anything about Texas history.

    I Wonder... (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by ScottW714 on Tue May 01, 2012 at 09:25:30 AM EST
    ...how many people are sitting in prison for crimes they didn't commit that have absolutely no chance of getting out because there isn't DNA to test.

    I read yesterday about the blood matching and the semen not.    I couldn't believe they convicted him.  Now I understand why, the "unidentified co-ejaculator".  Sounds like some sort of mystic hero.

    Gas prices have quadrupled since his conviction.

    How many have already been put to death for (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by Angel on Tue May 01, 2012 at 09:46:24 AM EST
    crimes they didn't commit?  I think we would be amazed at the numbers in both categories, sadly so.  

    If You Had Said... (none / 0) (#18)
    by ScottW714 on Tue May 01, 2012 at 01:00:30 PM EST
    ...that to me a decade ago, I would have agreed, but after realizing how many people have been exonerated using DNA,  I would surprised if the number of wrongly executed was low.

    What they should be doing is collecting DNA from the executed so if higher level testing becomes available, we can test.  And if delicate ego's are going to throw fits, do it anonymously just to see if we killed an innocent person.


    A waste of time and money (none / 0) (#19)
    by Rojas on Tue May 01, 2012 at 01:08:51 PM EST
    for a political pissing match....

    Use the resources to combat the cause of wrongful convictions. Start with the low hanging fruit (prosecutor misconduct) and work your way up.


    Diogenes Theorem (1.00 / 4) (#2)
    by diogenes on Mon Apr 30, 2012 at 09:50:25 PM EST
    "People who are tragically and wrongfully convicted of crimes when they are innocent seldom are Sunday School teachers."

    From Denver Post 4/28/12

    "The circumstantial evidence didn't look good for Dewey.
    Both Taylor and Dewey -- a motorcycle buff nicknamed "Rider" -- ran with a crowd involved in the area's burgeoning meth culture. Dewey had been staying with family of Taylor's roommate, Cynthia Mallow.
    Dewey had priors for armed robbery and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. And authorities who picked him up in Pueblo shortly after the murder said he was on his way out of the state."

    oh (5.00 / 5) (#4)
    by TeresaInPa on Mon Apr 30, 2012 at 10:02:27 PM EST
    they should just leave him in prison then.

    Are YOU a "Sunday school teacher"? (5.00 / 3) (#5)
    by Yman on Mon Apr 30, 2012 at 10:25:32 PM EST
    Wrongfully sent to prison for life?

    Oh, well - you're not a "Sunday School teacher".


    I actually do have one of those! (5.00 / 3) (#6)
    by Peter G on Mon Apr 30, 2012 at 11:27:49 PM EST
    After 22 years' imprisonment on a wrongful conviction for killing his own daughter, we are hopeful our former Sunday school teacher will see freedom this spring.  My office has been working toward this for about 11 years.

    Wow! (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Yman on Tue May 01, 2012 at 06:15:07 AM EST
    It's stories like that give you hope for the system. - accused of killing your own daughter, no less.

    Good luck!


    woah (5.00 / 1) (#23)
    by TeresaInPa on Tue May 01, 2012 at 04:30:22 PM EST
    what a terrible thing to endure, the death of your daughter and then you are convicted of doing it.  I wonder if he still believes in God. I know my heart just sent a prayer for him.  Couldn't have stopped it if I had wanted to.  
    Best of luck on this case.

    missing bit (1.00 / 3) (#26)
    by diogenes on Wed May 02, 2012 at 07:39:08 PM EST
    "Lee's lawyer never disputed the conclusion of arson. He argued instead that Ji Yun had started the fire herself to commit suicide."
    Looks like the Sunday School teacher allowed his lawyer to throw his daughter under the bus.  I'll take it for granted, though, that he was a fine, upstanding fellow and is the exception to Diogenes Theorem.

    Thank you, diogenes, for providing me (5.00 / 1) (#28)
    by Peter G on Fri May 04, 2012 at 04:16:34 PM EST
    with an opportunity to test the limits of my self-restraint.  This is, no doubt, good for my character.

    So kind of you (none / 0) (#27)
    by Yman on Wed May 02, 2012 at 10:16:35 PM EST
    Looks like the Sunday School teacher allowed his lawyer to throw his daughter under the bus.  I'll take it for granted, though, that he was a fine, upstanding fellow and is the exception to Diogenes Theorem.

    As if anyone cares ...


    Scott714's Theorem (5.00 / 3) (#17)
    by ScottW714 on Tue May 01, 2012 at 11:45:37 AM EST
    PART I:  "People who are tragically and wrongfully convicted of crimes when they are innocent seldom are acrobats, pro ball players, or butlers"

    What a revelation, they don't have very odd jobs...

    PART II:  "People who are tragically and wrongfully convicted of crimes when they are innocent are more then likely indigent."

    IOW, their access to effective council is greatly reduced.

    Not really sure what your 'theorem' has to do with anything.  It's OK to convict the wrongly accused so long as they aren't upstanding members of society ?  It's their fault ?

    Since that doesn't seem to bother you, how about the fact, like this case, the real rapist killer remained free.  It's not like they lock up the innocent and keep looking, how many other victims are created by convicting the wrong person.

    Grow up and at least run you silly theorems by your Social Studies teacher before exposing us to that hot mess.

    And for the record, one of my Sunday School teachers, who was also the Chief of Police, was busted for shoplifting and subsequently fired from both positions.

    Just for fun, I Goggled 'sunday school teacher crime'.  Wrong group to pick, there is no shortage of rapists and murders in that group, which of course is something the convicted in this story didn't actually do.


    this contradicts the (none / 0) (#7)
    by cpinva on Mon Apr 30, 2012 at 11:46:08 PM EST
    "we went with the best evidence and best suspect we had at the time" excuse offered by the prosecutor:

    In other words, Dewey was a victim of the dubious "unidentified co-ejaculator" theory prosecutors like to present when the scientific evidence doesn't go their way.

    the actual "best evidence" they had pointed to another person entirely. strangely enough, that didn't stop them from prosecuting a man that they had no real evidence against. i fail to be impressed, since this borders on prosecutoreal misconduct. in fact, it darn near borders on criminal action, unlawfully restraining someone under color of law. the fact is, they weren't operating in good faith, and they know it. i hope this guy sues them all.

    I find this terrifying (none / 0) (#10)
    by Darby on Tue May 01, 2012 at 06:46:15 AM EST
    Not just this case, but the fact that so many people have been wrongly convicted.
    I think this speaks volumes for changes in our justice system.

    Great job by the Innocence Project. (none / 0) (#20)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue May 01, 2012 at 01:11:56 PM EST
    Are those up to date crime lab techniques (up to date over what was available 18 years ago) that were used to test the semen and exonerate Dewey being used in current prosecutions as well?