DNA frees wrongfully imprisoned Robert ‘Rider’ Dewey
“There’s still a killer out there.”
Those were Robert “Rider” Dewey’s words to the court on Oct. 16, 1996, shortly before then-Mesa County Chief District Judge Charles Buss sentenced Dewey to life in prison without parole following his jury trial conviction in the rape and murder of 19-year-old Jacie Taylor in Palisade.
“I’m happy to impose it on you,” Buss said before passing sentence.
In 2012, Mesa County, and the state of Colorado, apologized.
While relatively primitive DNA helped convict Dewey in Taylor’s murder, advances in DNA helped set him free after nearly 16 years of wrongful imprisonment. Dewey’s exoneration, which was first reported by The Daily Sentinel on April 27, was formalized on April 30 by District Judge Brian Flynn as Dewey walked out of the Mesa County Justice Center a free man. He touched a tree on April 30 for the first time in nearly 16 years, while tasting his first steak that night at The Winery restaurant in Grand Junction.
Dewey’s freedom was owed largely to the work over 10 years of Denver attorney Danyel Joffe, whose efforts were supported financially by the New York Innocence Project, an advocacy organization dedicated to exonerating those wrongfully convicted using DNA. The Colorado Attorney General Office’s grant-funded Justice Review Project took an interest in the case in 2011, in addition to Mesa County sheriff’s investigators and Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle, the man who successfully prosecuted Dewey in 1996.
“I deeply regret it took so long to uncover your innocence,” Tuttle addressed Dewey shortly before he was freed on April 30.
Using highly discriminating YSTR DNA technology, which was unavailable in 1996, authorities made comparisons of material found under Taylor’s fingernails, a dog leash believed to be used to strangle her, along with a semen- and blood-stained blanket found in Taylor’s apartment.
While Dewey was eliminated, results pointed to 39-year-old Douglas Thames, already serving life in prison for the 1989 murder of Susan Doll in Fort Collins. Thames lived down the street from Taylor in 1994 but was never contacted in the original police investigation.
Dewey’s exoneration brought calls for new legislation in Colorado, where, unlike 27 other states, there is no mechanism by which prisoners exonerated of crimes can receive compensation. Currently a resident of Colorado Springs, Dewey, 51, recently told the Sentinel he expects to testify before lawmakers at some point during the upcoming session of the Colorado General Assembly.