When Danyel Joffe was designated as a court-appointed attorney to represent Colorado Department of Corrections inmate Robert Dewey 11 years ago, she didn't know whether her new client was innocent.
Not until she spent months in her office in an old Capitol Hill home immersing herself in the case. While her cats prowled around her rolltop desk, she examined the contents of several large boxes of investigative reports. She read every word of the transcript from the five-week-long trial.
She knew then that the wrong man was sitting in prison.
"He (Dewey) had told me, 'You'll believe I'm innocent when you see all the evidence.' He was right," Joffe said after Dewey's exoneration last week.
Joffe was front-and-center when a large contingent of representatives of the Mesa County District Attorney's Office, the Mesa County Sheriff's Office, the Colorado Attorney General's Justice Review Project, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the Innocence Project took the rare step of holding a joint news conference Monday morning to announce something they agreed on: Dewey's innocence.
"I am here to celebrate that my client will no longer be my client," Joffe told the packed room.
After Dewey's exoneration became official in a courtroom later that day, Joffe was the one Dewey singled out to include in his Native American religious ritual.
Dewey waved a burning bundle of sage around Joffe on the courthouse steps. The lawyer, who had visited him several times a year since 2001 and corresponded with him regularly to urge him not to give up hope, closed her eyes and held out her arms as the smoke wafted over her gray suit.
The case that drove Joffe for so long was unusual because rudimentary DNA evidence had helped convict Dewey in 1996 and now newer and much more accurate DNA testing eliminated him as the perpetrator and matched up to someone who previously had not been identified as a suspect.
The case would also become a landmark because it eventually pulled prosecutors, defense attorneys and law officers into a team all working on the same goal — to free Dewey and identify the real murderer.
"To Danyel's credit, she never came across as adversarial on this, which is different," said Mesa County Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle, who helped both to convict and to exonerate Dewey. "I had a better working relationship with her on this reinvestigation than I've had with virtually any other defense attorney. As much of a true believer as she was, she played it pretty well."
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Sunday, May 06, 2012