Exonerated Man Free After 17 Years
Almost two decades after being wrongfully convicted of murder, Robert Dewey is finally a free man. The official word came down just after 4:00 Monday afternoon in Mesa County court when police removed the handcuffs from Dewey's wrists.
"I always had a smile on my face doing a life sentence and they couldn't understand why," he recalled of the officers in the prison. "It was because I wasn't there."
That attitude and frame of mind was the only thing that allowed him to live through 6,219 days behind bars for a crime he didn't commit.
"I was thrown into a dark tunnel with just a pinpoint of light," Dewey said of his hope for justice. "For the first two years [in prison], I didn't make my bed because I thought... this was a bad dream."
It took more than 17 years to come out of that tunnel when recent DNA analysis proved Dewey wasn't the man responsible for the death of Jacie Taylor, 19, in 1994.
Taylor was found strangled in the bathtub of her Palisade home. She had been sexually assaulted and beaten.
Ironically, the DNA testing that helped convict Dewey in 1996 not only exonerated the man years later but is now pointing the finger at Douglas Thames who is currently in prison. Thames was convicted of raping and killing a Fort Collins woman back in 1989.
"I deeply regret it took so many years to uncover your innocence," Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle said to Dewey in court. "I wish you nothing but the best and I sincerely mean that."
Dewey's only words in court were "Thank you."
The man's defense lawyer, Danyel Joffe, thanked investigators and the DA's office for cooperating with their efforts to clear her client's name. "It takes a lot of character to admit you made a mistake and release Mr. Dewey in this case," she said. "I believe we're finally doing justice today in this case."
"He spent an awful lot of time in prison, but I strongly believe he'll be vindicated."
Judge Flynn said a few words before ordering Dewey's release. "It's days like today that we're reminded that our justice system is the best in the world, but it's not perfect."
"What makes this a historic day in my opinion is how the prosecution and the defense worked together to in exonerating this man and joining in the matter," the judge added. "Both parties worked to right a wrong."
Just before 3:45 pm, Judge Flynn granted Dewey his release and refunded any court costs he incurred in this case. After the paperwork was faxed to the state's Department of Corrections and back, Dewey was set free around 4:00 pm.
"I hold no animosity," Dewey said. "Everybody's been the better person and apologized for this."
Dewey thanked his family, legal staff, and the justice system as he walked freely out of the Mesa County Justice Center for the first time in nearly two decades. Referencing a mental list of things to do, he jokingly said a trip to Disneyland was not part of the plan.
"I'm going to get a steak, spend time with my family and probably touch that tree over there," he told our cameras in an exclusive one-on-one interview outside the courthouse. "I haven't touched one in all these years."
Dewey is looking forward to getting re-acclimated to a free life, but isn't forgetting about the friendships he made in prison and the possibility of other innocent people serving time.
"I'd tell them to not give up," he said. "Things can happen and they have; I'm a living example of it."
But Dewey also knows his exoneration means more suffering for Taylor's family. "This whole thing, I feel for them more than anything because, you know, it was their child."
"My prayers are with them and I'm hoping for nothing but the best."
As for the new suspect in this case, Thames, Dewey says he has no words for the man that has cost him nearly two decades of his life.
Despite moments of doubt, Dewey says he always knew this day would come - the day he again is able to ride his motorcycle freely down the road.
"[I'm going] anywhere the wind takes me, man. Just get on and ride."
Dewey acknowledged there would still be trials and tribulations in his now free life. He says the two things that make him the most nervous are the advancements in technology and not having necessary job skills to get work.
He also said it would be nice to be compensated by the state for his time in prison, but that he would leave it up to his staff of lawyers to work it out.
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