Idaho's top lawyers spent their Friday morning with a man who said he had ample reason to distrust the legal system.
Ex-boxer Dewey Bozella, who spent 26 years behind bars for a murder he didn't commit, brought his compelling story to a meeting of the Idaho State Bar today, telling his true-life tale of persistence, forgiveness, determination, faith and hope.
Ultimately, Steve Richards, of the Idaho Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said Bozella's story emphasized how important the judiciary is, the rule of law is and the power it plays in people’s lives.”
"[Bozella] took the short end of the stick on our criminal justice system for many, many years," said Richards. "But after 26 years of failure, Dewey Bozella is here to tell you he never gave up on his life.”
Bozella’s conviction was finally dismissed in October 2009. While incarcerated, Bozella earned bachelor's and master's degrees, married his wife Trena, and came to terms with prison, which included time in New York's notorious Sing Sing prison.
“Because I wanted to be accepted, I did everything wrong,” said Bozella. “The first thing I did wrong, I started hanging out with the wrong people. The second thing I did wrong was I started smoking cigarettes. The third thing I did wrong is I started smoking reefer, started getting high, and I started drinking.”
As a young man, Bozella became involved in boxing, training at a gym run by former heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson, and for a time, Bozella’s life seemed to be on an upswing.
Not long after, however, in 1983, he was convicted in the brutal killing of a 92-year-old Poughkeepsie woman.
No physical evidence tied Bozella to the crime, but on the testimony of two convicts in exchange for their freedom, Bozella was sentence to 20 years to life.
Bozella said "life didn't mean anything" at the time, but today said that God had a bigger plan.
“He wanted me to do what I’m doing today. He wanted me to be not only forgiven, but be well prepared to be able to tell another person that you can accomplish anything if you have the will,” said Bozella. “Never let fear determine who you are, never let where you come from determine where you’re going.
Bozella joined the ranks of Muhammad Ali and Nelson Mandela among others when he was awarded the 2011 Arthur Ashe Courage Award, presented annually at the ESPN Television's ESPY Awards.
Since his release, Bozella started the Dewey Bozella foundation, dedicating his time to working with at-risk kids through mentoring and boxing instruction. Additionally, Bozella is a motivational speaker, offering addresses to approximately 50 organizations each year. Bozella is finishing his autobiography, which is expected to be published in 2013.