A Colorado man wrongly convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the rape and murder of a woman found strangled with a dog leash was exonerated on the basis of new DNA evidence and set free on Monday after spending more than 16 years behind bars.
Robert “Rider” Dewey walked out of a courthouse in Grand Junction, Colorado, a free man after a judge found him innocent of the 1994 killing and said his exoneration marked a “historic day” for the state.
“Mr. Dewey spent 6,219 days of his life incarcerated for a crime he did not do,” Mesa County District Judge Brian Flynn said during the brief hearing. “This is a reminder to the entire system that it’s not perfect.”
Flynn said prosecutors had not committed misconduct, Dewey had been represented by good defense attorneys, and an impartial jury had heard the case but added: “Despite all these things, the system didn’t work.”…
Prosecutors announced earlier on Monday they were seeking an arrest warrant for a new suspect in the 1994 killing who was identified by DNA testing and is already serving a life sentence for a similar 1989 murder.
And two more in Dallas County, Texas:
This morning, two men stood in the same courtroom where they were convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to life in prison for a rape and shooting that happened almost 30 years ago. This time, both were smiling, as they were one step closer to exiting the criminal justice hell that consumed the last three decades of their lives.
Raymond Jackson and James Curtis Williams donned suits and were surrounded by friends, family and fellow exonerees, as Judge Susan Hawk, with her declaration of relief from conviction based on actual innocence, granted them entrance into the ever-expanding brotherhood of Dallas County exonerees. This morning’s double exoneration hearing comes just weeks after the exoneration of three men for one crime.
With dozens of men having come before them and about 10 sitting behind them in the audience, it’s clear that systematic flaws that have lead to so many wrongful convictions. Under District Attorney Craig Watkins, Dallas County has been famously proactive in freeing the wrongfully convicted. But what’s less readily apparent is how deep the problem runs.
“I know for a fact” there are other innocent men in prison, Williams said to the crowd gathered after the hearing. “You will not get the proper representation if you are poor,” he added. “A lot of them had to cop out to cases that they knew they was innocent on because they didn’t want to face the jury.”
I’ve made this point a number of times before, but it’s always worth making again: DNA testing did not “fix” the system, it only confirmed that the system is broken. DNA simply isn’t a factor in the vast, vast majority of criminal cases, including most murder cases. But the flaws that exist in the small percentage of cases where DNA is dispositive of guilt are almost certainly at work in all of those other cases, too.