Lecture on life, liberty
Robert Dewey wore his biker black leather, jeans and boots for his speaking engagement at Colorado Mesa University.
He urged students to take notes.
“I came out of prison looking and acting like I did 18 years ago,” Dewey told a class of criminal justice students at CMU’s Houston Hall. “You guys who are stepping up to these law enforcement positions: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Read a few chapters until you find out what that story is all about.
“I didn’t get to pet a dog for 18 years,” he said. “Those things are pretty cool.”
Dewey’s visit to the class Monday night capped his longest stay in the Grand Valley since he was exonerated April 30 in connection with the 1994 slaying of 19-year-old Jacie Taylor. Wrongfully incarcerated for 18 years, Dewey was convicted in Taylor’s murder by a Mesa County jury in 1996. He was cleared after modern, ultra-discriminating DNA showed Dewey wasn’t at the murder scene, and pointed to a new suspect who lived several doors down, but who wasn’t questioned in the original investigation.
Dewey’s 1996 jury convicted him despite DNA that couldn’t rule out 45 percent of the entire Caucasian population as contributors to blood stains on a shirt owned by Dewey — a critical piece of evidence in the case.
“We were the sacrificial lambs for early DNA,” Dewey told the class.
Dewey, 51, now lives in Colorado Springs with his girlfriend, Laura, and is recovering from major back surgery last month, paid for by Medicaid. The former mechanic said he’s still unable to work, but holds out hope for a construction position of some sort. Robert, nicknamed “Rider,” said he’s roughly a week away from collecting or purchasing all the parts he needs for his first post-prison motorcycle.
“The biker community has really opened its arms to me,” he said.
Monday’s class at CMU also embraced Dewey: One student hugged him and gave him a $20 bill at the end of the speech.
“From that second day after I was released, people here were coming up to me and apologizing,” he said. “I’ve always appreciated all the kind thoughts coming from Mesa County.”
Also unexpected was contact from Jacie Taylor’s family. Dewey said Taylor’s mother had contacted his mother in California, expressing sympathies.
“I really didn’t expect that,” he said.
Dewey also didn’t anticipate international attention. A three-piece German band, “Courage + Craft,” cited Dewey’s story as inspiration for a song, “Ride On.” Dewey’s case is also a catalyst in Colorado for discussion about possible legislation establishing a system of compensation for those wrongly convicted of crimes and locked up, consistent with 27 other states. Dewey’s appellate attorney, Danyel Joffe, has said she’s already broached the issue with Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. Inmates discharged from the Colorado Department of Corrections are provided roughly $100 in “gate money” for short-term expenses, Dewey noted.
“Basically, they told me you shouldn’t have been here so we shouldn’t have to pay you,” Dewey said. “The system’s broke.”
An interview with Dewey prior to Monday night’s class was interrupted by his cellphone blaring with the Lynyrd Skynyrd song, “Freebird.”
“It’s got a nice ringtone,” he told the reporter, smiling.