Robert “Rider” Dewey spent 17 long years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit. During that time, he endured constant legal setbacks and personal tragedies. This is how he made it to the other side.

September 2013

•Kansas, 1964 Shortly before his fourth birthday, with the sun blazing down on the endless plains, Robert Dewey watched a family friend ride a Harley down the highway like a surfboard, one foot on the handlebars and one on the seat. The young Dewey could barely contain himself. Motorcycles! He had to have one. It would be an anxious nine years before he received his first, a Benelli 125. From then on, he always thought of himself as “Rider.” His mother, Donna Weston, sweet and God-fearing, remembers her young son as polite and considerate but hyperactive. “Rebellious” may be more accurate. Rider’s idol growing up was Evel Knievel. He’d heard the renowned daredevil ran away from home some 50 times as a kid. Rider tried to best Knievel’s record and nearly succeeded. He would hit the road for increasingly lengthy jaunts on his motorcycle. During these outlaw forays, he discovered expansive highways, the vast American landscape, and the strongest feelings of peace he’d ever known. He eventually dropped out of high school, left home for good, and fully immersed himself in a biker culture that led to drugs—and occasional run-ins with the law.

His first marriage, to Cindy Flenker, was brief. They had a son in June 1979: Shawn Michael Dewey. But the marriage withered. Cindy had ideas of how to raise their child that didn’t include Rider. When she left, he sought refuge on his Harley and in the places it could take him. Although he developed an on-and-off drug habit, he also remarried. He and his new wife, Barbara Barnes, toured 27 states during a year of uninhibited meandering that culminated in Mesa County, Colorado, a few months before the death of a 19-year-old woman named Jacie Taylor.

June 3, 1994 According to police and court transcripts and official testimony, Jacie Taylor was attacked in her living room, somewhere by the couch, likely with fists. A man entered her two-story apartment at 855 Inness Court in Palisade and beat her over and over. His manic pounding sent droplets of her blood spattering across the wall and onto the blue and white blanket rumpled on the sofa. Taylor chipped her fingernails, apparently trying to claw herself away as the man tore off her pants. He eventually wrapped a pink dog leash around her neck and pulled it taut, not for seconds, but for minutes. Once her fight had dissolved, the killer carried Taylor upstairs. Blood dotted the steps leading to the bathroom where he laid her in the tub. He turned on the faucet and, presumably trying to erase evidence, inserted several pieces of soap inside her vagina. He left two mementos resting just below her navel: a small brown pebble and a silver ring adorned with two hearts. Taylor was found the next day, nude from the waist down, face up in a tub of red-hued water.

By midmorning, Inness Court—a block of ragged apartments the meth crowd had claimed as its own—was swarming with neighbors gawking from behind yellow police tape. Palisade police officers arrived first and were soon joined by a Mesa County Sheriff’s Office investigator; Gil Stone, the chief investigator at the county district attorney’s office; and a lab tech named Joe Snyder. Snyder, an expert in blood analysis who was once employed by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI), aided law enforcement officials with investigations and crime scene analysis. In Taylor’s apartment he found medium velocity blood spatter—the result of an already bloody surface being struck with a hard object—on pizza boxes in her living room, on the blanket, and on the sofa and the wall behind it. Snyder noticed blood leading up the stairs. In the bathroom, a bloody palm print darkened a wall near the shower. In Grand Junction, Dr. Robert Kurtzman performed the autopsy. Skin matter from Taylor’s attacker was lodged beneath her fingernails. One of the soap pieces inside her bore a surprise: a clear thumbprint. Kurtzman sent his findings to CBI for analysis. Inconsistent testimony hindered the investigation from the start. A snuff film was rumored to be circulating, but even after digging underneath a trailer where it was supposedly hidden and questioning people who’d heard of it, the video never surfaced. Nearly everyone in this fringe group had a rap sheet thick with drug- and assault-related charges, and many were quick to join a smear campaign so long as it pointed away from their own crimes.

There was but one consistency: a guy a lot of people were talking about. New in town. Biker type. Shifty. With few leads and no witnesses, Palisade police chief Greg Kuhn kept his eye out for the man they called Rider. He had a medium build; long, brown hair woven into a ponytail; and a universe of prison ink, mostly of the skull-and-chaos variety, winding around his arms and upper body.