Boxing Helped New Yorker Survive 26 Years He Was Incarcerated for a Crime He Didn’t Commit
(New York, NY – July 12, 2011) Poughkeepsie native Dewey Bozella will be presented with the 2011 Arthur Ashe Courage Award during the ESPY Awards live on ESPN on Wednesday, July 13. With the help of the Innocence Project and represented by lawyers at WilmerHale, Bozella was exonerated in 2009 after serving 26 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. While in prison, Bozella took up boxing and now trains young people in the sport.
“We are extremely proud that Dewey is being recognized for the incredible courage he displayed during and after the horrible injustice he suffered,” said Peter Neufeld, Co-director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “Being wrongfully convicted is one of the most difficult challenges that one can face, yet Dewey not only survived this heartbreaking ordeal, but came out of it with humanity and generosity of spirit that is hard to match.”
Bozella was initially arrested for the 1977 burglary and murder of a 92-year-old woman shortly after her attack, but the charges were dropped because there was no evidence linking him to the crime. He was rearrested for the crime 6 years later after 2 inmates, who were released from prison for their cooperation, told prosecutors that Bozella committed the murder. Even though a fingerprint was found at the crime scene that matched another individual who committed a nearly identical crime around the same time, the state went forward with the prosecution. Based solely on the strength of the informants’ testimony, Bozella was convicted. Bozella was given a new trial in 1990, but he was convicted again.
Bozella eventually sought the help of the Innocence Project, which uses DNA testing to exonerate people who have been wrongfully convicted of crimes. Unfortunately, the physical evidence in the case had been destroyed, so DNA testing wouldn’t be possible. Convinced of his Innocence, the Innocence Project persuaded lawyers at WilmerHale to take up his case, and they were able to prove that Dewey was innocent of the crime by uncovering additional evidence that was never turned over to Bozella.
“Even though the system repeatedly failed him, Dewey never lost faith and bravely fought for 26 years to clear his name,” said Olga Akselrod, a staff attorney at the Innocence Project who worked on Bozella’s case. “Since his release, he has worked selflessly to inspire young people by sharing his love of boxing. There isn’t a more deserving person for this award.”
Bozella took up boxing while he was incarcerated at Sing Sing. The sport helped him to channel his anger over being wrongfully convicted. He eventually became the light heavyweight champ of the prison and even got the opportunity to fight Golden Gloves champ Lou Del Valle.
While in prison, Bozella also met his wife Trena and earned a bachelor’s degree from Mercy College and a master’s from New York Theological Seminary. He was a model prisoner but was denied parole several times because he wouldn’t admit that he was guilty of the murder.
After his release, Bozella found a job in Newburgh helping people who are released from prison get back on their feet. Until it was recently forced to close, he was also volunteering at a nearby gym, training young people how to box.
Contact: Alana Salzberg; 212-364-5983; ASalzberg@innocenceproject.org
The Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. To date, 272 people nationwide have been exonerated through DNA testing and dozens of states have implemented critical reforms to prevent wrongful convictions.