Exonerated of murder, Bozella, 52, ready to box
In his bleakest days, confined to four walls and almost no shot
of freedom, Dewey Bozella could see the boxing ring.
He could hear real fans, not inmates, chanting his name as he
answered the bell for a bout. He pictured the dank and dark
surroundings of his prison cell replaced by the bright lights of
the marquee, his prison number swapped for his name on the back of
a silk robe. Bozella could see himself, the champion of Sing
Serving time for a murder he did not commit, Bozella dreamed of
just one real fight in the outside world.
”I just wanted to know what it’s like to feel like a pro,” he
He’ll find out Saturday.
Two years after he was exonerated of murder, the 52-year-old
Bozella will make his professional boxing debut fighting as a
special attraction on the Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson card in Los
Bozella fights two years after he walked out of a courtroom
cleared for a gruesome murder he did not commit. Convicted for the
murder of 92-year-old Emma Crapser, on her way home after a night
out playing bingo, Bozella served 26 years in prison before the
conviction was overturned in 2009.
Never in the darkest of days did Bozella waver in maintaining
his innocence. Armed with a plea bargain offer in 1990 that would
have released him from prison on the spot had he admitted guilt,
Bozella refused and was sent back to jail.
He said he’d rather die in prison with a clear conscience than
live in freedom known as a murderer.
”This is the outcome,” Bozella said. ”It’s a gift.”
Honored by ESPN as its 2011 Arthur Ashe Award winner for his
courage, Bozella mentioned his dream of having one fight. Hopkins
and Golden Boy promotion worked to make it a reality.
His grit and courage have helped him come a long way from New
York inmate No. 84AO172. He’s been training in Philadelphia,
courtesy of Hopkins, and spent a recent workout going through the
same demanding pre-fight grind as any other boxer. Even with his
amazing change of fortune, there are no smiles out of Bozella as he
takes his licks against a heavy bag. When a trainer barks at him
mid-whack to drop and give him 20, Bozella does.
Bozella is fit, looks about 20 years younger than his age and
expects to weigh in at about 195 for his fight against Larry
Hopkins. He’s done everything asked of him and has asked Bernard
Hopkins, also an ex-convict fighting well past his prime, for
advice. The two have run the streets of Philadelphia together, and
Hopkins’ team helped Bozella pass the California State Athletic
Commission test in late September.
”This is what it’s about,” said Bozella after a workout,
smiling and sweating, ”enjoying the last part of my life.”
The first 50 years were outright hellish for him. Born in
Brooklyn, N.Y., Bozella was only 9 when he witnessed his father
beat his pregnant mother to death. His father skipped town, and
Bozella was raised in foster care – but more often the streets. He
had a brother who was stabbed and killed (Bozella would later
confront the killer in prison) and another brother was shot in the
head. Bozella roamed the streets, fighting, committing petty
crimes, and living life without direction or purpose.
He moved to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and was there for a mere four
months when his life changed forever. He was suspected in 1977 of
killing Crapser. Bozella was fingered by a suspect in another crime
and eventually charged for her death. But a grand jury found there
wasn’t enough evidence and refused to indict him.
With a second chance, Bozella vowed to steer clear of the
streets. He picked up boxing at a gym run by former heavyweight
champion Floyd Patterson and tagged along with him on several trips
to weekend bouts. For the first time, Bozella felt fulfilled and
thought he had found his calling.
Life unraveled in 1983 when false testimony from convicts that
granted their freedom cost Bozella his. Bozella was arrested again
for Crapser’s death and in December 1983 was convicted of murder
and sentenced to 20 years to life. He collapsed to the ground in
tears, crying out that he didn’t do it.
”When I was young, I was bitter,” he said. ”I thought I would
never get out of prison. I thought I might die in there.”
His attitude changed when boxing became his salvation. Bozella
felt fleeting moments of freedom when he stepped into the ring. He
was Sing Sing’s light heavyweight champion and fought Golden Gloves
champion Lou Del Valle, who later knocked down Roy Jones Jr.
Bozella found his focus in the ring, and that discipline helped
turn him from a student of the game to a student who hit the books
at night. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree,
forgave the inmate who killed his brother, and met his future wife,
Trena, who was there visiting another inmate.
He also refused to admit to the crime, even with his freedom on
”I didn’t do it,” he said. ”I couldn’t live with the fact
that for the rest of my life, I’d have admitted to something I
didn’t do. If it cost me my freedom, then it cost me my
Hopkins, the light heavyweight champion, was stunned that any
man would turn his get-out-of-jail free card.
”Most people would have taken the plea just to get the hell out
of hell,” he said.
Bozella started a weekly letter writing campaign to the
Innocence Project, a foundation that uses DNA evidence to help
clear the wrongly accused. After years of letters, they agreed to
take his case. But there was no physical evidence. It had all been
destroyed. The case eventually came to the attention of the firm
WilmerHale, and it agreed to accept Bozella’s file pro bono.
In 2007, attorney Ross Firsenbaum met with Bozella and found a
man losing hope. Over the next 18 months, Firsenbaum led a team
that eventually found the arresting officer, discovered evidence
had been withheld during the trials and proved Bozella had nothing
to do with the killing.
In 2009, Bozella walked out of a court room a free man.
”He believed he was going to get out of prison,” Firsenbaum
said. ”He had a plan for what he was going to do with his life
when he got out of prison.”
Bozella would like to share his story as a public speaker. But
the pain of his wasted 26 years still runs deep, and he’s reluctant
to talk about life in prison.
”There are still a lot of mental effects that are inside of
me,” he said. ”I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t socialize
with it. I’ve tried my best to live my everyday life to the best of
my ability. I deal with things on my own.”
He started working with kids, and word of his ordeal spread.
ESPN heard his story and honored him with its Arthur Ashe Award at
the ESPYs, putting him in a line of winners that include Nelson
Mandela, Muhammad Ali and Pat Tillman.
”I don’t think a lot of people would risk 15 or 10 more years
in prison, which happened, to finally be set free and gain his life
back,” Hopkins said. ”That, to me, is bigger than anything that I
Like so many fighters, Bozella promised he’d retire after this
one bout. He knows he’s beating the odds again at 52 and hopes his
story can inspire others like him.
”There are thousands of other people going through what I went
through,” he said. ”There are people facing death. They could be
executed at any given second. My story is the story of many people.
I think that by me being able to speak about it not only helps me
rehabilitate myself and give something back, but help those that
are around me. Please, don’t ever give up.”