Judge: Dewey deserves at least $1 million

EXTRAS


ROBERT DEWEY



In a first-of-its kind payout for Colorado, Mesa County District Judge Richard Gurley signed off on a compensation package for Robert “Rider” Dewey, calling 17 years and 12 days of wrongful imprisonment for the murder of a Palisade woman, “the result of a miscarriage of justice.”

“(Dewey) has presented reliable evidence he was actually innocent from any participation in the crimes at issue and that he did not attempt, solicit, conspire, act as a complicitor or act as an accessory to the crimes charged, or the commission of a crime or any crimes factually related to the crimes at issue,” Gurley wrote in an eight-page ruling.

The ruling, which was signed by the judge Aug. 28, directs the Colorado State Court Administrator to start paying Dewey $1,192,310 at a rate of $100,000 per year, minus taxes and adjusted for inflation.

Dewey is the first Colorado resident to receive compensation under a bill inspired by his case and signed into law in June by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

To date, Gurley’s ruling notes, Colorado’s judicial system has given Dewey $280 — accounting for reimbursement of various fees and court costs.

Gurley’s order also addressed Mesa County’s investigation into the 1994 murder of Jacie Taylor, noting Mesa County and the Colorado Attorney General’s office are, “unaware of, and do not admit to, any wrongdoing, misconduct or bad faith by law enforcement, the District Attorney’s Office for the 21st Judicial District, or any other governmental official during the original criminal prosecution ...”

Taylor’s body was found June 4, 1994, partially clothed in a bathtub in her Palisade apartment. Dewey, 52, was convicted by a Mesa County jury in October 1996 of first-degree murder and first-degree sexual assault and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Dewey was exonerated and released from prison April 30, 2012, after new DNA testing didn’t link him to evidence items in the case while implicating a new suspect, Douglas Thames.

Thames, who is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of a Fort Collins woman, has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for trial.

A measure which became law June 5 created a mechanism by which people who are found factually innocent of felony crimes after serving time in jail, prison or juvenile placement, can receive compensation from the state.

Gurley’s ruling notes Dewey must complete a personal financial management course to receive more than one annual payment. The payments can also be reduced by $10,000 if Dewey fails to present proof of health insurance or Medicaid coverage. Colorado can also halt the payments if Dewey is convicted of a class 1 or 2 felony.

Tuition and fees will be waived for any state-supported higher education institution.

Gurley, however, declined a request from Dewey attorney Danyel Joffe to order the expungement of all records in the case. Mesa County and the Colorado Attorney General’s office had objected to the request, arguing the records are needed for the pending criminal case against Thames.

State officials said they’ve already taken other steps to clear Dewey’s name, including the removal of conviction information related to the Taylor murder from state and national law enforcement computer databases.

Dewey’s DNA was also removed from a state offender index.


COMMENTS

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This is a difficult case.
On the one hand, in Medtronic v. BrainLab, U.S. District Court Judge Richard P. Matsch said, “The fairness of the adversary system of adjudication depends upon the assumption that trial lawyers will temper zealous advocacy of their client’s cause with an objective assessment of its merit and be candid in presenting it to the court and to opposing counsel. When that assumption has been contradicted by a trial record of conduct reflecting a winning is all that is important approach to the trial process, the court has a duty to redress this resulting harm to the opposing party.”
That is all the more true of DAs than mere “trial lawyers”. Too many DAs and police investigators too often take the attitude “whatever I can get away with is fair, after all, I’m trying to protect the public from the bad guys.” That is why zealous adherence to the rules of procedural due process is so crucial, albeit frequently ignored. Such inappropriate behavior needs to be vigorously deterred by sizable punitive awards given to wrongly convicted actually innocent persons. Mere token wage-compensation based on some hypothetical earning potential of often undereducated persons cannot serve the intended purpose of punishing and deterring miscarriages of justice.
In Dewey’s case, the Innocence Project said, “The police and prosecutor built a circumstantial case against Dewey.  He initially emerged as a suspect in the case when police heard from several of Taylor’s friends that she was afraid of Dewey.  Police also learned that Dewey hid from them when they came to question him and several of the victim’s friends. Furthermore, when police later found and questioned him, he initially gave police a fake name…The prosecution also emphasized Dewey’s suspicious actions during the initial stages of the investigation.” From that, it is reasonable to conclude that Dewey’s behavior in dealing with investigators was problematic, and therefore a possible factor in his wrongful conviction.
None of that explains the whole problem, however. Inconvenient truth is, most jurors don’t give a hoot about procedural due process, a presumption of innocence, or the U.S. Constitution. They just want “the bad guys to get what’s coming to them.” That inexcusably ignorant attitude is what prevents a jury from finding reasonable doubt, which exists BY DEFINITION in the case of an actually innocent person.
My unsolicited political advice to any unlucky accused person is: 1) always tell the truth, and 2) try not to help the jury dislike you.

Kudos to the Sentinel for including a link to a pdf file of Judge Richard Gurley’s order. In my opinion, that constitutes an important public service to the Mesa County electorate which gets to vote on whether or not judges should be retained in office.

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