Dewey Bozella, boxer wrongly convicted of murder, to speak at UF


Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 10:15 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 10:15 a.m.

After spending 26 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit, Dewey Bozella won his first and only professional boxing match at age 52.

He said one of his messages to University of Florida students Thursday is that if he can overcome such adversity, “What excuse do you have?”

Bozella is speaking at 8 p.m. in the Reitz Union’s Rion Ballroom. His appearance follows his successful boxing debut in October and his being given the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in July at ESPN’s annual ESPYs awards show.

Based on the testimony of two convicted criminals and despite a lack of physical evidence implicating him, Bozella was sentenced in 1983 to 20 years to life in prison for the murder of a 92-year-old woman. He maintained his innocence even when offered a deal that would have freed him if he admitted guilt.

“It cost me another 19 years of my life, but it wasn’t worth giving up my character and my integrity,” he said.

An amateur fighter before his conviction, Bozella returned to boxing behind bars and became the light heavyweight champion of Sing Sing Prison. He also earned his GED, bachelor’s degree and master’s degree, and worked as a counselor for other prisoners.

He said he decided to better himself rather than let prison do the opposite.

“I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to change. I’m worse in prison than I was out on the streets,’ ” he said.

He repeatedly sought the help of the Innocence Project, a legal group dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions, and had his case referred by it to the law firm WilmerHale. The firm found that physical evidence in the case had been destroyed, a development Bozella called “devastating.”

But lawyers eventually found a retired police lieutenant who had investigated the case and saved the file on it. It included evidence that helped win his release, which happened in 2009.

In October, he fulfilled his dream of boxing professionally when he beat a 30-year-old opponent in a four-round unanimous decision. Today he’s working with a foundation working with at-risk youth.

The ACCENT student-run speaker’s bureau is paying $12,500 for his speech. Bozella said his story shows the importance of perseverance.

“If you really put your heart into it, it can be done,” he said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com. For more stories on the University of Florida, visit www.thecampussun.com.

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