Apology due Dewey, along with the money

Is $1 million worth 17 years of your life? Put another way, would you willingly sit in a small cell, day after day, year after year, for payment of a little less than $200 a day?

That’s essentially how much money Robert Dewey will be receiving for the 17 years and 12 days he spent in prison after being wrongfully convicted for the 1994 sexual assault and murder of Jacie Taylor in Palisade.

Dewey was released last year after new DNA evidence proved he was innocent of the killing. Another man, Douglas Thames, who is already serving a life sentence in prison for the murder of a Fort Collins woman, is now being prosecuted for the Taylor homicide.

Last week, Mesa County District Judge Richard Gurley signed an order authorizing payment of $1,192,310 to Dewey, to be paid in annual installments of $100,000. The order includes several conditions, including that Dewey must not be convicted of any class 1 or class 2 felonies.

It is not adequate compensation for having a large piece of one’s life wrongly taken away, but it’s all that is allowed under a new state law.

Beyond that, Dewey deserves an official apology from this community and the state for his lost years, even though there was no indication that police or prosecutors knowingly sent the wrong man to prison. Some of those law enforcement officials have already offered their personal apologies to Dewey.

Robert Dewey was no angel at the time of Taylor’s killing. He admitted to using methamphetamine and to an out-of-state assault charge. He also was placed on probation for having a stolen weapon.

But bad behavior doesn’t make him a murderer, and those aren’t the crimes for which Dewey went to prison. He spent 17 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

No amount of financial compensation can make up for those lost years, or for Dewey not being present at critical times, such as when his son died while Dewey was in prison.

Still, some compensation is unquestionably in order. It will come through the state court system as a result of legislation inspired by Dewey’s case and signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper in June.

Judge Gurley applied the formula written into that law to come up with the $1,192,310 figure, to which both the prosecution and defense attorneys agreed.

Under the terms of the compensation order, Dewey must complete a personal financial management course. His annual payments can be reduced if he fails to show proof of health insurance or Medicaid coverage.

Robert Dewey won’t become a wealthy man as a result of this court ruling. He will, if he uses his money wisely, be able to live comfortably and — more importantly — in freedom. Nobody should begrudge him that after his years of wrongful confinement.


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