Dewey was lone case to earn exoneration; program now ends
Colorado’s Justice Review Project dusted off hundreds of old cases statewide over recent years.
In the end, just one earned a recommendation for new DNA testing: the Mesa County murder conviction of Robert “Rider” Dewey.
The rest is history. So is the project.
Colorado Attorney General spokeswoman Carolyn Tyler said the program that contributed to Dewey’s exoneration and freedom has been suspended because of the expiration of $2.6 million in funding from the National Institute of Justice. The effort started in Colorado in 2010.
“The Justice Review Project has concluded all case reviews and there are no recommendations for DNA testing,” Tyler said.
Applications for post-conviction DNA testing were made available to Colorado prison inmates who met specific criteria: The inmates had to be convicted at trial or by guilty plea in a violent felony, including murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, or aggravated robbery, among others.
Identity of the perpetrator must have been an issue in the case and physical evidence lending itself to DNA testing had to be available.
“Most of the applications did not qualify for DNA testing as they were not identity cases in which DNA testing would reveal the identity of the true culprit,” Tyler said.
A final report on the Colorado effort, including the number of cases reviewed and applications received, is being developed, Tyler added.
First Assistant Attorney General Julie Selsberg told The Daily Sentinel in January 2013 that more than 2,000 Colorado inmates had expressed interest. At that time, 7,914 people were serving sentences in the Colorado Department of Corrections for violent crimes that were eligible for the review.
It was Selsberg and her team who recommended modern DNA tests after a review of Dewey’s 1996 trial conviction in Mesa County for the murder of Palisade’s Jacie Taylor, 19. The results backed Dewey, pointed to a new suspect who lived near the Palisade crime scene at the time of the slaying, and ultimately caused Dewey’s exoneration in April 2012.
Dewey, 53, was awarded $1.2 million as the first Colorado resident compensated for wrongful imprisonment — 17 years and 12 days in Dewey’s case — under a law inspired by Dewey and signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper.
“One takeaway is that Colorado’s prosecutors do an excellent job of getting it right the first time,” Tyler said.