Lawyers: Dewey due $18 million
In a prelude to a possible lawsuit, attorneys for a man wrongfully imprisoned nearly 16 years for rape and murder claim he’s owed more than $18 million in damages from Mesa County and the town of Palisade, while raising allegations of misconduct in the investigation that targeted and convicted Robert ‘Rider’ Dewey.
A notice of a claim filed with Mesa County and Palisade— a step that is required before filing a lawsuit under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act—said the full extent of damages suffered by Dewey have yet to be realized. The claim letter was provided to The Daily Sentinel under the Colorado Open Records Act.
“It appears that damages will exceed $18 million,” reads the letter, which was sent on Dewey’s behalf by attorney Michael Roche, with the Denver firm Lathrop & Gage. Dewey also is represented by a New York City-based firm, Neufeld Scheck & Brustin.
The letter includes the first formal allegations of misconduct in the case since Dewey was exonerated in Mesa County on April 30. The notice says Dewey lost his freedom through “intentional, reckless and/or negligent conduct” of employees of the Palisade Police Department and Mesa County Sheriff’s Department.
“A number of Mesa County and Town of Palisade employees conspired to violate Mr. Dewey’s civil rights and to ensure Mr. Dewey was wrongfully convicted of (19-year-old Jacie Taylor’s) rape and murder,” reads a section of the letter labeled “basis of claim.”
Employees, the filing alleges, improperly destroyed evidence, including critical fingerprint evidence from a bar of soap found with Taylor’s body. The filing also alleges witnesses were “pressured or coerced” by law enforcement to implicate Dewey in the crime.
The document does not specify who committed any specific act of alleged misconduct.
“The injuries, damages and losses that Mr. Dewey suffered as a result of these actions defy description,” the claim notice reads. “In a word, Mr. Dewey lived through hell.”
Thomas Rice, an attorney representing Palisade with the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, denied all misconduct claims against the Police Department.
“That letter was painting with a very broad brush, and while it makes various allegations it never ties anyone to a specific act,” Rice said.
Rice said he hadn’t yet responded to Dewey’s attorneys.
Mesa County did not respond to requests for comment.
In announcing Dewey’s exoneration on April 30, Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger rejected any suggestion Dewey was framed for the crime, telling a news conference, “This office prosecuted the best available suspect with the best available evidence.”
Dewey was arrested in April 1995 in connection with the murder and rape of Taylor. Her body was found June 4, 1994, partially clothed in a bathtub inside her Palisade apartment. Relying partly on what Hautzinger called “rudimentary” DNA evidence at the time, a Mesa County jury convicted Dewey in October 1996 of first-degree murder and first-degree sexual assault and sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Dewey, now 52, was released from prison April 30 after new DNA evidence showed he wasn’t inside the apartment while pointing to a new suspect, Douglas Thames, 40, who’s serving life in prison for the murder of Fort Collins resident Susan Doll in 1989.