Behind the Headlines: Robert Dewey on Incarceration and Exoneration
KREX News Room
EL PASO, Colo. For Robert Dewey, time is something he will never get back. He spent nearly 18 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.
"I didn't make my bed for two years. I thought this is just a dream it's not really happening," Dewey said.
In 1994, a Palisade teenager was brutally raped and murdered. Dewey was arrested for the crime, appearing to be the perfect suspect.
"A month long trial and the best they came up with was, 'we just think you were there'. I kept telling them, 'can't you hear the train outside cause I'm getting railroaded man.'"
In 1996 Dewey was convicted, sentenced to life in prison.
Danyel Joffe, Dewey's post-conviction lawyer, said, "When someone has been convicted by a jury for a crime, the presumption of innocence is gone. There's now a presumption of guilt."
“Lot of times that tunnel just didn’t have any light at the end of it at all. You’re coming over 10 years, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 years,” said Dewey.
He turned to prayer to get through the dark days, “I’d just say I’m on hold but lets pray about these other people. Ones that are suffering from drugs and alcohol and cancer, you know, let us absorb some of that pain today.”
His Native American rituals gave him a sense of peace and hope
“The state came close to tuning his life, and the only reason it didn’t is because he refused to let himself be destroyed,” said Joffe.
“Go to that happy place man, whatever it is makes you happy, when you close your eyes and think about something, go to that place,” said Dewey.
For him, that place was on the road. On a bike, with the wind in his face.
Dewey said, “Guards are going off about something sit there and smile, cuz your not there, you can hear them, you can see them but your not there. I was riding my motorcycle.”
“For 11 years I saw him sitting in prison green and a plastic chair at the Department of Corrections, and it just never fit. But seeing him on a motorcycle fits," Joffe said.
Joffe was one of the few who believed Dewey was innocent, and in 2001 she took on the case.
“The problem was, it was difficult to try and reconstruct the investigation, nobody saw the crime occur, at least nobody that we know about saw the crime occur other than the victim and the killer. It became clear after a while that the only way we were going to be able to clear Mr. Dewey’s name was through DNA testing,” she said.
Joffe recruited help from the Innocence Project in New York and the Colorado Attorney Generals office.
“They had a special program, funded by the federal government, to investigate closed homicide cases,” she said.
“And so, out of 3,000 people, they picked me,” said Dewey.
DNA testing proved Dewey was not the killer, he was exonerated of all charges.
“When I stepped out somebody on a Harley rode by, and so I was like ahhh, to be not having a fence barrier and be able to hear the sound of music to me, was pretty cool,” Dewey said.
He waited nearly 18 years for that day. However, he didn’t realize that was about to encounter a whole new set of struggles outside the prison walls.
Tune in to NewsChannel 5 Monday evening for the second part of Dewey's story. He's inspired a Colorado legislator to propose a bill to compensate people who've wrongly been incarcerated.