By: Basch & Keegan
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Fishkill Man Awarded $7.5 Million in Wrongful Conviction Lawsuit Against Dutchess County
Dewey Bozella, wrongfully convicted of the murder of a 92-year-old Poughkeepsie woman and imprisoned for 26 years, settled a federal civil lawsuit with Dutchess County for his wrongful conviction. The $7.5 million settlement amount, reached the day before a jury was to be selected for trial on a claim for $25 million in restitution damages, was initially a secret. However, a vote by the Dutchess County Legislature in February of 2015 deciding to fund the settlement payment with bonds to be paid by taxpayers, made public the $7.5 million sum settled on by the parties. The wrongful conviction lawsuit will not be officially dismissed until the entire sum is paid, which should occur in the next few weeks.
Bozella was imprisoned in 1983 when convicted of the 1977 murder of 92-year-old Emma Crapser. Prosecutors argued that the then-18-year-old Bozella was in the process of burgling Crapser’s apartment when interrupted by Crapser, whom he then killed. The only evidence linking Bozella to the crime was the testimony of two inmates in New York state prison, who were both released from prison for their cooperation. Bozella consistently maintained his innocence, even when going before the parole board on four separate occasions. When Bozella sought assistance from the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization which uses DNA evidence to exonerate wrongfully convicted prisoners, he was turned away, due to the fact that the physical evidence from the crime had since been destroyed. However, the Innocence Project, determined to assist Bozella, found attorneys at WilmerHale who would take Bozella’s case on a pro bono basis. WilmerHale succeeded in exculpating Bozella in 2009, presenting four pieces of evidence to the court which were suppressed by the prosecution at the time of Bozella’s initial conviction; most notably, a fingerprint belonging to a man who had been convicted of a very similar crime around the time of Crapser’s murder. WilmerHale continued to represent Bozella in his case for restitution, securing the $7.5 million settlement against Dutchess County for his wrongful conviction.
Bozella was awarded the ESPN Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 2011. He fought in (and won) his first and only professional boxing match in 2011 at 52 years old, after becoming the light heavyweight champion of Sing Sing prison while incarcerated. Bozella, a Brooklyn native, is now a resident of Fishkill, New York, where he lives with his wife Trena.