In June 1977, in Dutchess County, New York, a 92-year-old woman came home and encountered someone trying to burglarize her apartment. The burglar hit her, tied her up, and stuffed linens down her throat, suffocating her.
Police suspected the involvement of brothers Lamar and Stanley Smith, as well as Dewey Bozella, who had a record of petty crime and was known to hang around the area. The Smith brothers initially denied any knowledge of the crime, but they changed their story when police lied to them, stating that Bozella had accused them of the murder.
Lamar then told police he had seen Bozella and another man, Wayne Mosley, on the front porch of the victim’s house trying to break in. Stanley told police that he had seen Bozella, Mosley, and a third man in a nearby park before the burglary.
Although Mosley and Bozella denied involvement, and the first grand jury refused to issue an indictment against Bozella, the prosecution persisted. Prosecutors eventually promised Mosley immunity for his testimony against Bozella, as well as immunity for perjury and a reduction of a jail sentence he was then serving. They finally obtained an indictment and tried Bozella for the murder in 1983.
Mosley, Stanley Smith, and Lamar Smith, who received the district attorney’s support for his parole in exchange for his testimony, all testified at Bozella’s trial and, in December 1983, a jury convicted Bozella of second-degree murder and he was sentenced to 20-years-to-life.
Bozella’s first conviction was overturned because the prosecutor used his peremptory challenges during jury selection to remove black jurors. He was tried again in December 1990.
At Bozella’s second trial, Stanley Smith refused to testify as he had recanted his prior statements. Nonetheless, a jury again convicted Bozella of second degree murder and he was again sentenced to 20- years-to-life.
Lamar also later recanted his testimony and, in 2007, an investigation by Bozella’s attorneys revealed several witness statements that contradicted the testimony provided at trial, and that had never been provided to the defense.
There was also evidence that another man, Donald Wise, had committed the crime. Wise had committed similar crimes in the past and his fingerprint was found at the scene. However, police never followed up on Wise and the prosecution failed to turn this information over to the defense.
Based on the prosecution’s suppression of evidence, Bozella’s conviction was overturned, and in October 2009, the prosecution decided not to retry him and dismissed all charges. Prior to trial, Bozella had refused a plea bargain and during his incarceration refused to admit guilt in four parole hearings. Bozella filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in 2010 that was settled for $7.5 million.
- Stephanie Denzel