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.
In 1995, four months after Rider was booked on the murder charge, a man he’d never heard of was arrested for the 1989 slaying of 39-year-old Fort Collins businesswoman Susan Doll. Doll had been beaten, raped, and found lifeless with a telephone cord wrapped around her neck. The killer, who was 16 when he murdered Doll, was Douglas Thames. Like Rider, he was staying on Inness Court in Palisade when Taylor was murdered, but he was on the periphery, younger than most of the residents and part of a different social circle. His fiancée, Becky Golden, attended high school with Taylor. Yet somehow Thames’ name never came up. During the investigators’ sweep of the neighborhood, he either wasn’t home or was simply overlooked. Even when he was arrested in Grand Junction—13 miles from Palisade—for killing Doll in nearly the same way as Taylor was killed, no investigator ever made the connection that might have exonerated Rider. The DNA implicated Thames in the murder of Jacie Taylor. But why would he leave the rock and the ring? Was Sam Mallow involved, or did Thames place those items on Jacie’s stomach as a setup? These questions remain unanswered but will be raised again when Thames is tried in 2014.
Spring 2012 Rider had heard nothing new about his case since the Texaco shirt was cleared more than a year earlier. Joffe was on a gag order while law enforcement officials* searched for any connection between Rider and Thames. They finally determined there was none. In late April, Rider was transferred from Limon to a jail in Arapahoe County, where he’d spend the night before transferring again to Grand Junction. Still handcuffed, with none of his possessions, he had no idea what was happening—until Danyel Joffe walked in. Rider opened with his usual line. “Am I going home yet?” Joffe smiled, nodded. “You’re getting out next Monday. Exonerated. Fully.” Rider said nothing for a beat, and then: “Is this a dream?” “No.” “Will you pinch me?” She pinched him. It hurt. Exonerated. Fully. At the courthouse in Grand Junction the following Monday, Judge Brian Flynn counted the days Rider had spent in jail: 6,219. The people who had always believed in Rider were all around: His mother and her husband sat behind him. Joffe was at his side. Selsberg was there. A pen pal flew out from North Carolina. When Rich Tuttle, one of the original prosecutors, stood, he looked Rider in the eye and said, “I deeply regret what the system did. I wish you the best, and I mean that sincerely.” Rider simply nodded and mouthed, “Thank you.” Rider was 35 when he was jailed. On the day he walked out into a bright Grand Junction afternoon, he was 51. The instant he exited the courthouse, he heard a Harley tear up the street, end-of-the-universe loud. He burst into a wide grin. On the steps outside, he burned a bundle of sage. Smoke clouded the air as he purified himself and his longtime defender. He waved the smoldering sage around Joffe, who, dressed in a gray suit, held her arms out, closed her eyes, and let the smoke waft over her.
(*This sentence originally stated that "Joffe was on a gag order while the CJRP attorneys searched for any connection between Rider and Thames." It should read "Joffe was on a gag order while law enforcement officials searched for any connection between Rider and Thames." We regret the error.)