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 >|