Dewey Bozella Shows His Courage Under Fire

Dewey Bozella and family attend ESPN's ESPYs pre-party event in Hollywood./Dennis J. Freeman/

By Dennis J. Freeman

Dewey Bozella is being celebrated for his remarkable courage in enduring 26 years of injustice as he watched his life pass before him while being locked up behind bars. Bozella was sent away to prison in 1977 for crimes he did not commit.

A prison boxer, Bozella was arrested and convicted of murdering a 92-year-old woman. Eventually, faith, fortune and the work of the Innocence Project paved the way for Bozella’s freedom. DNA evidence later exonerated and set Bozella free in 2009.

Bozella’s journey to freedom is so captivating that ESPN recently honored the 51-year-old family man with the 2011 Arthur Ashe Courage Award during its annual celebration of sports.

“We are extremely proud that Dewey is being recognized for the incredible courage he displayed during and after the horrible injustice he suffered,” said Peter Neufeld, Co-director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.  “Being wrongfully convicted is one of the most difficult challenges that one can face, yet Dewey not only survived this heartbreaking ordeal, but came out of it with humanity and generosity of spirit that is hard to match.”

Unfortunately, Bozella’s story isn’t just an abbreviation. There may be hundreds, even thousands of innocent men and women wasting away in a prison or jail cell due to the fact they were wrongly sent there.   

According to the Innocence Project, there are over 10,000 cases being evaluated, analyzed and reviewed.  The late great comedian Richard Pryor once quipped that when you look at who is locked up in jail, it is just us.

Factually, that isn’t true. But metaphorically, Pryor’s remarks have a lot of ring to it. African Americans represent the majority of those incarcerated in our criminal justice system.

They also make the up the majority of those cases where they were wrongly and falsely imprisoned. Of the 272 cases today which resulted in exoneration of an original conviction, 161 represent African Americans.  Three-fourths of the men and women falsely accused of crimes found their cases overturned due to the fact they were misidentified as the perpetrator.

This is what landed Bozella in prison. This is what put away Paul Terry away for 26 years out of a possible 400-year prison sentence for murder, aggravated kidnapping, rape and other crimes. Terry, who was cleared of the crimes in 2003, was locked up in 1977. The perpetrator of the crimes is nowhere to be found.

Cornelius Dupree found himself in the same predicament as Bozella and Terry. Sentenced to 75 years for a robbery and rape that he did not do, Dupree served 30 years behind bars before he was released from prison earlier this year. Thanks to DNA testing, Dupree was granted his freedom and cleared of the crimes.      

“Cornelius Dupree spent the prime of his life behind bars because of mistaken identification that probably would have been avoided if  the best practices now used in Dallas had been employed,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.

“Yet most counties in Texas do not have these best practices in place. This must be remedied in the next legislative session by the adoption of an eyewitness identification reform bill that had the votes needed for passage last session but not enough time to get enacted. Let us never forget that, as in the heartbreaking case of Cornelius Dupree, a staggering 75% of wrongful convictions of people later cleared by DNA evidence resulted from misidentifications.”

Bozella could have been out of prison long before he finally got out if he had cooperated with the prison parole board. The parole board recommended Bozella admit his guilt to the crimes that put him in prison in the first place. Bozella refused to go along with the program.

He stood steadfast to his faith and convictions, maintaining his innocence. By defying the parole board’s recommendation, Bozella was denied parole on several occasions. Nevertheless, Bozella’s day of justice finally came to fruition two years ago.

When he walked out of those prison doors, there was no million dollar offer or lucrative book deal that awaited Bozella when he was released, just family, a few friends and a smile of happiness. No bitterness, just love and a hearty exuberance for freedom.

That’s all Bozella and other wrongly convicted individuals need.


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