For now, steak, and savoring life on the outside for freed Dewey
How do you start rebuilding a life after 16 lost years?
For starters, in the case of 51-year-old Robert Dwain Dewey, you eat well.
“He said he wanted a filet mignon steak, first thing,” Donna Weston, 71, Dewey’s mother, said after a press conference Monday morning at the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department.
That cut-of-awesomeness meal will have to be restaurant variety, she said. Donna and her husband, Jim, packed up their RV Friday morning in Ridgecrest, Calif., for a 760-mile ride to Grand Junction, which was three days after getting the phone call of a lifetime. The one they’d prayed about for 16 years.
“It’s been very long, very hard,” Donna Weston said. “I just pray that the right person has been caught.”
On the business of life out of prison, there were more questions than answers for Dewey on Monday.
Danyel Joffe, Dewey’s attorney and advocate since 2001, said Dewey was expected to get his first cellphone on Monday. Immediate plans were for Dewey to leave Grand Junction and stay with a friend out-of-state, assuming of course he could get on an airplane, she said.
“He needs an ID … will they accept a prison ID? We have no idea,” Joffe said.
What could Dewey do on the outside? He formerly worked in construction, while Jim Weston said his son was skilled at working on engines, particularly motorcycles.
“Engines have changed a lot, too, since he’s been in,” Weston said.
Among immediate pressing needs is possible back surgery, Joffe said. Dewey, prior to prison, had a steel rod placed in his back, and Dewey has complained of a screw tweaking nerves in his spine.
“One of the first things will be getting him to a doctor,” she said. “It’s been real severe over the last 15 months.”
Jason Kreag, a staff attorney with the New York-based Innocence Project, an advocacy group that has worked with Joffe to free Dewey since 2009, said the organization has assigned a social worker to tend to Dewey’s needs. Donna Weston said she understood that person will be working with her son at least for the next year.
“She’ll help him with the smallest tasks, everything from deciding whether he wants job training,” Kreag said.
Unlike some states, Colorado lawmakers haven’t established any mechanism by which assistance is offered for inmates exonerated of crimes, he said.
“At least when released on parole or probation, (Department of Corrections) gives you something,” Kreag said. “Mr. Dewey won’t have that.”
At Monday’s press conference, Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said, “We’re very regretful of the fact Dewey spent so much time in prison.”
Hautzinger, who at one point was asked about the possibility of civil litigation by Dewey, said there has been nothing suggesting law enforcement misconduct, such as withholding exculpatory evidence from Dewey’s defense, during the original 1994 to 1996 investigation, which ended with Dewey sentenced to life in prison without parole.
“This office prosecuted the best available suspect at the time with the best available evidence,” Hautzinger said.
Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle, one of two prosecutors who tried Dewey, echoed similar observations.
“If you could name an emotion, I’ve had it,” Tuttle said of recent efforts to exonerate Dewey, while embarking on a fresh murder probe.
“Looking back, I wouldn’t have done anything differently based on the information we had at the time,” Tuttle said.
There, Joffe, who was a prosecutor in the 7th Judicial District in Montrose and Delta counties between 1984 and 1986, remains at odds with Mesa County.
“The evidence against him was so weak, he shouldn’t have been prosecuted,” Joffe said.
Joffe declined comment on the original investigation by the Palisade Police Department, which was actually spearheaded by the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department. Joffe also wasn’t interested in questions of civil litigation against Mesa County, saying Dewey’s priority will be “finding his free legs.”
“How do you decide what 18 years of your life are worth?” she asked.