Friday, April 27, 2012

DNA clears man in 1994 rape, murder

A man who has served nearly 16 years in prison for the 1994 rape and murder of a Palisade woman has been exonerated by new testing of DNA evidence in the case.

Robert D. Dewey, 51, is scheduled to appear Monday before District Judge Brian Flynn for a motions hearing, according to court records.

At that time, prosecutors and an appellate attorney representing Dewey are expected to file a joint motion to dismiss Dewey’s jury-trial conviction on charges of felony murder and first-degree sexual assault, according to Stephen Laiche, one of two attorneys who defended Dewey at trial in 1996.

Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger on Thursday declined to comment.

Bert Nieslanik, head of the Office of Alternate Defense Counsel in Mesa County, distributed an email Thursday to Grand Valley defense attorneys announcing Dewey’s exoneration will be the subject of a news conference that is expected to be called for 10 a.m. Monday.  Dewey, who has maintained his innocence in the June 1994 slaying of 19-year-old Palisade resident Jacie Taylor, is expected to be released from custody Monday, according to the email.

Advancements in DNA are to be credited, while Laiche also praised Hautzinger’s office.

“They could have fought us on this thing, but they realized they had an innocent man,” he said. “It makes me wonder what we could have done differently.”

Dewey was sentenced Oct. 16, 1996, by then-District Judge Charles Buss, to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole following a monthlong trial that was prosecuted by Rich Tuttle, current assistant district attorney under Hautzinger, and Martha Kent, now in private defense practice.

“I am happy to impose it on you,” Judge Buss told Dewey shortly before passing sentence, according to The Daily Sentinel’s published story on the sentencing hearing.

“There’s still a killer out there,” Dewey told the judge earlier in the hearing, according to the Sentinel story.

Dewey was arrested April 18, 1995, after a Mesa County Sheriff’s Department investigation into Taylor’s murder.

The arrest happened five days after Dewey was released on parole from a one-year sentence for a weapons charge, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections.

Taylor was found dead June 4, 1994, inside her apartment in 855 Inness Court in Palisade, her partially clothed body submerged in a bathtub and bound with a nylon dog leash.

She was strangled with the leash, beaten and sexually assaulted.

While cleared by modern DNA, the DNA technology available at the time offered conflicting information for jurors to consider in Dewey’s case, according to the Sentinel’s coverage of Dewey’s trial.

An expert witness for the prosecution testified blood stains found on a work shirt belonging to Dewey were consistent with a mixture of blood from Dewey and Taylor, telling jurors that approximately 45 percent of the Caucasian population at the time could have donated the blood.

Yet another DNA expert testified there was no evidence that Taylor’s blood was on the shirt.

Laiche told the jury that investigators knew someone other than Dewey was involved in Taylor’s slaying because DNA testing showed material found underneath Taylor’s fingernail and a semen stain on a blanket inside her apartment didn’t match Dewey’s DNA.

“I just wonder how many other Robert Deweys are out there,” Laiche said Thursday.