Update: A man sentenced to life in prison for the rape and killing of a Colorado woman was freed on Monday based on advanced DNA testing that exonerated him.
Robert "Rider" Dewey, 51, who had been imprisoned since his 1996 conviction, appeared before a Colorado judge on Monday in Grand Junction for a post-conviction hearing in his case. He was ordered released shortly after that hearing.
"I kind of want to kick back, ride my bike and be with my family," Dewey said after he was freed. "I always knew of my innocence and proclaimed my innocence."
Dewey was convicted and sentenced to life without parole for the rape and murder of Jacie Taylor, 19, in the western Colorado town of Palisade. Taylor's partially clothed body was found in her bathtub in June 1994. She had been beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled with a dog leash.
"I don't believe the prosecution established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt," she said. "The jury wanted to convict somebody."
Stephen Laiche, one of two attorneys who defended Dewey at his trial in 1996, praised Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger's office, The Daily Sentinel reported.
"They could have fought us on this thing, but they realized they had an innocent man," he told the newspaper. "It makes me wonder what we could have done differently."
Dewey's lawyers submitted his case to the Colorado Justice Review Project, a program established in 2009 with a $1.2 million federal government grant that allows convicted felons to apply for DNA testing in their cases.
The program is administered by the office of Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who lauded it as a way for advanced DNA techniques to affirm convictions or clear the innocent.
Questions arose during his trial about whether blood on his shirt belonged to the victim, according to local news accounts. A defense expert disputed the prosecution's contention that the blood matched Taylor's, the reports said.
The semen found on the victim did not match Dewey at the time of his conviction, but no other suspect was ever arrested for the crimes.
'Still a killer out there'
Under Colorado law, a first-degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Dewey consistently maintained his innocence.
At Dewey's original sentencing, then-Mesa County District Judge Charles Buss was quoted in local media as telling the defendant that, "I am happy to impose it (a life sentence) on you."
Dewey replied: "There's still a killer out there."
Post-conviction DNA testing has exonerated nearly 290 people in the United States since 1989, according to the Innocence Project, which works to reverse wrongful convictions.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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