Colorado Man to be Exonerated by DNA Evidence After Nearly 18 Years in Prison for a Murder and Rape He Didn’t Commit
First Exoneration to Have Stemmed From Attorney General’s DNA Review Project, Which Helped Clear Wrongfully Convicted Man and Identify Real Perpetrator
Contact: Alana Massie, 212-364-5983, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Grand Junction, CO; April 30, 2012) — With the consent of the District Attorney’s Office, a Mesa County judge will exonerate Robert Dewey of the 1994 rape and murder of Jacie Taylor after DNA testing excluded Dewey as the perpetrator and implicated another man who is in prison for a similar crime, at a hearing Monday afternoon. The case marks the first exoneration stemming from Attorney General John Suthers’ DNA Review Project, which began in October 2009. Dewey, who was represented by Danyel Joffe and the Innocence Project, walked out of the courtroom today a free man after spending nearly 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
“There is no question that Mr. Dewey has suffered a grave miscarriage of justice, having spent 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law. “This is an outstanding example of how conviction integrity units are working across the country. Prosecutors, law enforcement and defense lawyers are collaborating together to get to the truth. We are tremendously thankful to the Attorney General’s office and the Mesa County District Attorney’s and Sheriff’s Offices for their tremendous cooperation in this investigation. There’s no question that it would have taken much longer to right this injustice without their unwavering commitment to get to the truth in this case.”
Rich Tuttle, the Mesa Country Assistant District Attorney who prosecuted the case and who asked the court to vacate the conviction, added, “I am grateful for the support from the Sheriff’s office, the Attorney General’s office and Mr. Dewey’s lawyers in working together to clear Mr. Dewey’s name. I deeply regret that it took so many years to uncover proof of his innocence.”
On June 4, 1994, Jacie Taylor was found dead and her body brutally beaten in the bathtub of her Grand Junction apartment after neighbors reported a leak in their apartment. The medical examiner who examined the body found evidence that she had been sexually assaulted prior to having been strangled by a nylon dog leash or horse lead that was found wrapped around her neck.
Police began to suspect Dewey as the perpetrator shortly after the crime when they learned that he was present but hiding in the closet when they interviewed friends of the victim who lived nearby. The police also learned that the victim had told several people that she was afraid of Dewey, who she had met through mutual friends. When police tried to question Dewey about the incident, he gave a false name but admitted that he had previously been in the victim’s house. During a second interrogation at the apartment where Dewey was living at the time, police recovered a shirt that Dewey had worn around the time of the murder that had blood stains on it. The DNA testing that was available at the time showed that the blood was consistent with both the defendant’s and the victim’s blood. (The analyst predicted at trial that the sample was consistent with approximately 45% of the population.) However, other DNA testing done at the time excluded Dewey as the source of semen recovered on a blanket where the rape occurred and DNA found under the victim’s fingernails. Although the case rested largely on Dewey’s suspicious actions, he was found guilty of felony murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
In 2009, the Innocence Project joined forces with Joffe, who was already representing Dewey on his post-conviction appeals, and retested the trial scene evidence.
Joffee and the Innocence Project brought this information to Colorado Attorney General John Suthers’ grant-funded Justice Review Project. Julie Selsberg, an attorney on the Project funded by the National Institute of Justice, presented the case to the Project’s panel who then voted to have items of evidence from the case sent for DNA testing to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
Advances in DNA technology made it possible to definitively exclude the victim and confirm the source of the blood on the shirt as Dewey’s. This testing also yielded DNA results from the semen stain on the blanket which matched partial DNA profiles of the DNA from the fingernail scrapings and other evidence from the victim’s body.
“The Justice Review Project saw that there was evidence pointing to Mr. Dewey’s innocence and welcomed our collaboration,” said Joffe, who has represented Dewey since 2001. “After having worked so closely together on this case, I think we can all agree that defense representation is critical to the process.”
The profile of the semen was put in the CODIS databank and matched to Douglas Thames, who is serving a life sentence for the 1989 murder and rape of Susan Doll in Fort Collins, CO. Thames wasn’t arrested for the Doll murder until 1995, after Dewey had already been convicted. As he noted in the papers filed today, Tuttle conducted an investigation and determined that Thames acted alone in murdering Taylor and intends to charge Thames for the crime.
“While this has been a long day coming for Mr. Dewey, by establishing the Justice Review Project and requiring police departments to preserve evidence, Colorado is on the right side of protecting justice,” said Jason Kreag, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project. “But unfortunately Mr. Dewey is penniless and has lost out on some of his best years for building a career. Hopefully the state legislature will take notice of this tragic fact and pass legislation to compensate the wrongly convicted.