Prisons

Colorado Man Exonerated After Serving 18 Years for Murder

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Yesterday a Colorado judge ordered the release of Robert Dewey, who had served 18 years of a life sentence for a 1994 rape and murder he did not commit. "I find that Mr. Dewey is factually innocent of the crimes of which he was accused in this case," the judge said. "Mr. Dewey is now again a free man." As with other wrongful convictions, police and prosecutors discounted evidence indicating they had the wrong man—in this case, a semen stain on the bed of the victim, 19-year-old Palisade resident Jacie Taylor, that did not match Dewey's DNA. But unlike prosecutors who refuse to admit their mistakes, even to the point of blocking DNA testing, Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger welcomed the decision to free Dewey. "This office prosecuted the best available suspect with the best available evidence," Hautzinger said. "Thank God we are able to be here today to release an innocent man."

That first part is debatable. The Denver Post reports that "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." Dewey was exonerated after his post-conviction lawyer, Danyel Joffe, approached the Justice Review Project, a division of the state Attorney General's Office created in 2009. A re-investigation found that the semen on Taylor's blanket matched the DNA of Douglas Thames, who is serving a life sentence for the 1989 rape and murder of Susan Doll in Fort Collins. Doll, like Taylor, was strangled to death (with a phone cord in Doll's case, a leash in Taylor's). The Post says "authorities only linked Thames to Doll's death in 1995, after a stash of Doll's underwear—complete with Thames' DNA—was found stashed in the duct work of one of his former homes." Thames moved from Fort Collins to the Grand Junction area after Doll's murder and briefly lived in Taylor's building.

About half the states have funds to compensate people who have been wrongly imprisoned, but Colorado is not one of them. Dewey, the first person to be cleared by the Justice Review Project, is expected to file a lawsuit against the agencies that investigated and prosecuted him. "Mr. Dewey's case seemed to be one where someone was convicted because a jury wanted to blame someone," Joffe, his lawyer, said at a press conference yesterday. "How do you set a price on 18 years of someone's life? It's something we're going to look at down the road." The Post notes that Timothy Masters, a Colorado convict who was freed in 2008 after serving a decade for a murder he did not commit, received a $10 million settlement from the city of Fort Collins and Larimer County.

Radley Balko examined the problem of wrongful convictions in the July issue of Reason.

[Thanks to Ari Armstrong for the tip.]

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  1. But they followed procedure!

  2. police and prosecutors discounted evidence indicating they had the wrong man, … even to the point of blocking DNA testing

    If this kind of crap were treated as “accessory to rape/murder/whatever” perhaps there might be less of it.

    1. Hold people accountable for their actions!? HOW DARE YOU SUGGEST SUCH BLASPHEMY!

  3. Oh, we ruined your life. So sorry. Our bad. But at least we got it right eventually!

    Also, WTF re this:

    “This office prosecuted the best available suspect with the best available evidence,” Hautzinger said.

    By this logic they should bring cases against clearly innocent people if those people happen to be the “best available” suspects.

    1. Seriously.

      “Well, there was a drunk driver hit and run somewhere, lets hit up the bar and arrest someone at random.”

      1. “Was that moron pissing in the middle of the highway *again*?”

    2. “”This office prosecuted the best available suspect with the best available evidence,”
      Uh, no. And it certainly doesn’t look like we hire “A” teams to prosecute.
      And we won’t look into the motivations and competence…of any government employee ever.

    3. By this logic they should bring cases against clearly innocent people if those people happen to be the “best available” suspects.

      No doubt. “Best available” can often translate to “Only available”. How these prosecutors live with themselves, I know not.

  4. I’m always amazed at the lack of apparent anger in people who are wrongly imprisoned when they get out. I guess being in prison for 18 years teaches you patience and to be quiet and not piss people off. But when I imagine myself in that situation, I can only think of making the prosecutor’s life (and/or whoever else fucked up the case) as unpleasant as possible (without landing back in prison).

  5. Gotta jsut love our kangaroo court system lol.

    http://www.Deep-Web.tk

  6. Did he have to go back to jail to wait until the prison finished filling out the release paperwork?

  7. “This office prosecuted the best available suspect with the best available evidence,”

    Despicable comment.

    I’m guessing a primary contributor to this kind of prosecution is the horror, outrage, and pressure from the family and community and politicians for the police to “DO SOMETHING” about such a horrible crime.

  8. “Colorado Man Exonerated After Serving 18 Years for Murder”

    Your Welcome

    / The State

  9. “Colorado Man Exonerated After Serving 18 Years for Murder”

    Your Welcome

    / The State

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