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‘Never Let Fear Determine Who You Are’

FullTextImage/img/@altDewey Bozella gave a keynote talk at the 2013 Honor Conference at VMI. -- VMI Photo by H. Lockwood McLaughin.

Innocent Man Convicted Tells Conference About Quality of Character

LEXINGTON, Va., March 5, 2013 – Dewey Bozella told participants in VMI’s 2013 Honor Conference this morning about the struggles he’s faced in his life and the quality of character that was necessary to overcome them.

The course of Bozella’s life provides examples of the integrity and honor that participants have been exploring throughout the two-day conference.

Bozella was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1983, spending 26 years in prison before being exonerated. During that time he always maintained his innocence and persevered in the hope that he would one day be proven innocent.

“Never let fear determine who you are,” said Bozella. “Never let where you come from determine where you’re going.”

Bozella struggled with drugs and alcohol during his teenage years, but things changed when his brother was murdered. He was making positive choices in his life by his early 20s, learning carpentry and working to better himself.

That’s when he was first charged with the murder of a 92-year-old woman. In 1977 he was held for 28 days, but authorities released him due to the lack of evidence.

“For the next five years I was doing everything that I could to turn my life around,” said Bozella. “I was working, and everything was going right.”

Bozella’s turnaround was put on hold when, in 1983, the case was reopened and he was convicted on what was later found to be false testimony. The sentence was 20 years to life.

“When I was found guilty, believe me, it hurt. I fell down on the floor and cried,” said Bozella. He recalled losing hope as he experienced the reality of life in Sing Sing prison with all its indignities.

“I said ‘If they’re going to treat me like an animal, I’m going to act like an animal.’ For two years I lived like that,” said Bozella, recalling that after those first two years, he re-examined the course of his life.

“I decided to change my life,” said Bozella. “I took advantage of every opportunity I could.”

Among those opportunities was joining the Sing Sing boxing team. Boxing gave Bozella a way to focus his energies and further develop his character.

By 2007, Bozella had come a long way in his mission to better himself, learning three trades, completing 52 certificate programs, and earning bachelor’s and a master’s degrees, but his life was on hold until his innocence could be proven.

Throughout his 26 years of incarceration, Bozella worked to prove his innocence even on occasions when offering a false confession to the prosecutors of the parole board would have meant his freedom.

“The parole board was waiting for me to tell them I did it. I wouldn’t do it. I didn’t do it in 1977. I didn’t do it in 1983. I didn’t do it in 2003. I didn’t do it in 2005, and I damn sure wasn’t going to do it in 2007,” said Bozella.

Bozella was vindicated in 2008, when the arresting officer produced exculpatory evidence. And Bozella finally got his chance to box professionally when, at age 52, he faced off against Larry Hopkins in 2011.

“I went out there and put it on, and I beat him,” said Bozella. “Don’t let anybody tell what you can’t do. If I could do that at the age of 52, imagine what you can do.”

The Honor conference continued this afternoon with a series of workshops and closed with remarks by Ed Jurith of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

–John Robertson IV