Monday, October 17, 2011

Boxer who spent 26 years in jail for a murder he didn't commit wins his first fight... at the age of 52

Withheld evidence and suborned testimony put him inside

His poignant story reads like a Hollywood film script, but for Dewey Bozella it was a real-life nightmare. He spent 26 years in New York's notorious Sing Sing prison for a murder he did not commit.

But today he is feted by President Barack Obama and has finally fulfilled his dream of boxing professionally - at the age of 52.

He won his first and last fight by a unanimous decision despite giving away 22 years in age to his opponent. 'This is the greatest moment of my life,' said Bozella who fought with a simple message: 'Don't give up.'

For more than a quarter of a century he knew daily despair as he battled to clear his name over the brutal killing of a 92-year-old woman.

He could have become a free man FOUR times if he had pleaded guilty. Each time he refused, maintaining his innocence.

Bozella found comfort in boxing, training daily in the prison gym and studying at night for his bachelor and master's degrees.

Finally In October 2009, Bozella was formally cleared. This summer he was honoured by ESPN as its 2011 Arthur Ashe Award winner for his courage.

Legendary boxer Bernard Hopkins heard Bozella's story and offered him the chance to fight against 30-year-old Larry Hopkins on the undercard of his own championship bout. Hopkins told the Los Angeles Times last week 'This is not a charity case. This man is fulfilling his dream.'

Born in Brooklyn, Bozella was nine years old when he saw his father beat his pregnant mother to death. Later one brother was killed in a stabbing and another shot in the head.

Bozella became a petty criminal, but tried to start a new life by moving to upstate Poughkeepsie and taking up boxing at a gym run by former heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson. But at 18 he was arrested for a local woman's murder. Seven years later he was convicted of the killing.

Bozella said he had been bicycling far from the scene, but two convicts claimed he was the murderer in return for their own freedom. He received a sentence of 20 years to life.

'Every day I had to ask myself, 'How do I survive this nightmare, Sing Sing,' a place where hate and anger are the order of the day,' Bozella told ESPN earlier this year. 'I didn't merely want to survive, I wanted to thrive. Boxing awakened me. I felt free during my workouts for the first time. I was no longer a prisoner.'

In 1990, Bozella won a second trial. The prosecutor offered him a deal - admit the crime and go free. Stubbornly, Bozella refused. And then the jury convicted him.

He said: 'I'd die before I would tell you I did it. I can't, I can't. You are not going to make me say something I didn't do. I’m not a murderer.'

Bozella had to spend 19 more years at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining where he became the prison’s light-heavyweight boxing champion. He fell in love with a woman who was visiting another inmate, and got married.

He said: 'I learned to take myself from the bad position and make it a better position. If I have to die in prison, that's just the way it is.'

Bozella wrote the same letter to the Innocence Project week after week, asking them to take up his case.

Five years after receiving the first letter, the Innocence Project agreed, but police had destroyed all of the physical evidence in the case.

The law firm WilmerHale eventually took on the case and tracked down the senior detective who investigated the murder. It was to be a vital breakthrough. Arthur Regula had kept the only copy of the case file and had taken it home with him after he retired.

He told ESPN: 'I had figured some day someone would come knocking on my door. There were certain things in the case that made me have doubts. I just could never throw it away.'

The file revealed that prosecution witnesses had lied, and that another suspect had confessed to the crime - information withheld from Bozella's lawyers all those years.

On Thursday, as Bozella prepared for his first professional fight, President Obama telephoned him. Mr Obama said: 'I heard about your story and wanted to call and say good luck in your first professional fight.

'Everything you have accomplished while you were in prison and everything you have been doing since you got out is something that I think all of us are very impressed with.'

Bozella told ABC New York station WABC-TV about the dream that kept him going through the years. He said: 'My message is to never let fear define who you are, and never let where you came from determine where you are going.

'When I was in prison, they were telling me, 'You can't do this, you can't do that, it's never going to happen.' And now look. It was something I believed in my heart would happen.'

Original report here

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