Exonerated of Murder, a Boxer Makes a Debut at 52

October 11th, 2011

New York Times
By Peter Applebome
Oct. 11, 2011

PHILADELPHIA — The television crew had him up at dawn doing the Rocky fandango, dashing up the 72 stone steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and dancing around in triumph like another over-the-hill, underdog pugilist who had made it big.

Cliché or not, it is hard not to imagine the familiar trumpet score along with the thwock, thwock, thwock of fists on punching bags as Dewey Bozella trains for one of the least likely boxing matches in history.

After 26 years in New York State prisons, and two years after he was exonerated of murder, Mr. Bozella will make his professional boxing debut on Saturday in Los Angeles, at age 52, on the undercard of the light-heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins. (A mere 46 himself, Mr. Hopkins became the oldest fighter to win a major world championship this May.)

Mr. Bozella’s other fight, in which he is seeking compensation for the half of his life he spent behind bars, may be even more daunting than chasing victory in the ring. But for now, Mr. Bozella is focused on what he says will be his one and only professional bout.

“I want to go out there and give 100 percent and then move on with my life,” he said. “This is not a career move. It’s a personal move and a way to let people know to never give up on their dreams. My favorite quote is ‘Don’t let fear determine who you are and never let where you come from determine where you’re going.’ That’s what this is about.”

The product of a violent broken family and a hard life on the streets, Mr. Bozella was a troubled 18-year-old in 1977 when Emma Crapser, 92, was murdered in her Poughkeepsie, N.Y., home after returning from playing bingo. Six years later, based almost entirely on the testimony of two criminals who repeatedly changed their stories, he was convicted of the murder.

There was no physical evidence implicating Mr. Bozella. Instead, there was the fingerprint of another man, Donald Wise, who was later convicted of committing a nearly identical murder of another elderly woman in the same neighborhood. Mr. Bozella was retried in 1990, and was offered a deal that would let him go free in exchange for an admission that he committed the crime. He refused. A jury convicted him again.

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