Ashe Awardee Fights for Justice

Yet again, pro bono is found where one would least expect it.  The PBEye was pleased to hear that  ESPN gave  the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage to Dewey Rader Bozella at its annual ESPY Awards earlier this week.  Bozella, 51, was imprisoned for 26 years following a wrongful conviction in the gruesome murder of a 92-year-old woman in 1977.

Our own Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Signatory WilmerHale was the firm behind Bozella’s 2009 release.  But this pro bono miracle came only after many trials and tribulations for this innocent man.  Bozella had a rough childhood, from witnessing his father murder his pregnant mother to the deaths of three of his older brothers.  He had vowed to turn his life around when he was accused of the crime.

Despite an alibi and a lack of physical evidence, Bozella was convicted after two inmates lied to a prosecutor to secure their release.  He was sent to Sing Sing, where he found a great outlet for his bitterness: the boxing ring in the prison’s former electrocution building.  In the seven years before his retrial, Bozella would harness his boxing skills and even fight Golden Gloves champion Lou Del Valle.

At his retrial, Bozella’s character was put to the test when the district attorney told his lawyer, “If Dewey will admit his guilt, he can walk out a free man.”  He rejected this offer and was once again found guilty of a crime he never committed.  Bozella decided to make the most of his 20-to-life sentence and collected multiple college degrees from behind bars, all the while still boxing.

His determination and never-give-up attitude led Bozella to write to the Innocence Project once a week for years, only to find that all of the physical evidence from his case had been destroyed – leaving him without options.  But there was one sliver of hope left.  WilmerHale lawyers found Bozella’s arresting officer who provided them with previously withheld evidence that proved his innocence.

Nearly a million dollars-worth of pro bono work later, Bozella was a free man at age 50.  But he hadn’t let his time behind bars go to waste.  He now works with kids in order to get them off the street and into the gym where they can express themselves through boxing.

Courage is exactly what Dewey Bozella exhibited during his nearly 30-year ordeal, and The PBEye is proud to say that pro bono (and a Signatory Firm!) had a hand in his release.

Hat tip to PBI Intern Lauren Rabb for her help with this post.