New York Settles Wrongful Conviction Claim for $2.7 Million
by Michael Brodheim
On November 2012, the State of New York agreed to pay $2.7 million to settle a claim filed by a woman who was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for over 13 years.
Lynn DeJac was convicted in April 1994 of the second-degree murder of her 13-year-old daughter, Crystallynn Girard, who was found naked in her bed at their Buffalo home. An autopsy reported that she had been strangled and had non-lethal levels of cocaine in her system.
DeJac, who had been drinking and arguing with her boyfriend, Dennis Donohue, the night before Crystallynn’s death, was convicted despite the absence of any physical evidence. In exchange for the dismissal of unrelated felony charges, DeJac’s friend, Wayne Hudson, falsely testified that she had confessed to him that she killed her daughter. Sentenced to a term of 25 years to life, DeJac steadfastly maintained her innocence.
In 2007, the cold case squad of the Buffalo Police Department took a second look at the evidence in Crystallynn’s death. They discovered similarities with two other murders that were linked to Donohue, one involving a woman who was strangled.
Police had found blood on the shirt that Donohue wore on the night that Crystallynn died but it was not tested at the time. He had no alibi for that night, and had been implicated in stalking DeJac after she ended their relationship.
The cold case examination revolved around the presence of Donohue’s DNA at the scene of Crystallynn’s death, as well as inside her vagina. Based on these findings, DeJac’s conviction was vacated on November 28, 2007 and she was released from prison.
A subsequent re-examination of the autopsy records led to a determination that Crystallynn had died due to a cocaine overdose and not from strangulation; the original autopsy was in error.
Donohue had provided grand jury testimony implicating DeJac after being granted transactional immunity by prosecutors. Thus, he could not be charged in connection with Crystallynn’s death, though he was later convicted of murder in another case and sentenced to 25 years.
In 2008, within months of being cleared of criminal wrongdoing, DeJac, who married and changed her name to Peters, filed a claim against the State of New York pursuant to § 8-b of the Court of Claims Act, seeking damages for her wrongful conviction and imprisonment. Four years later she accepted the state’s settlement offer of $2.7 million.
Although cleared in her daughter’s death, DeJac never received a public acknowledgement of her innocence from law enforcement. To the contrary, according to a federal lawsuit that she filed against Buffalo officials, Joseph Marusak, the Assistant District Attorney for Erie County at the time of DeJac’s prosecution, continued to insist that she had murdered Crystallynn. The suit accuses Marusak of participating in a conspiracy to deprive DeJac of her civil rights and seeks $10 million in damages.
Unfortunately, DeJac did not live to see an end to the lawsuit or enjoy her settlement for long; diagnosed with cancer in 2013, she died on June 18, 2014. She was 50 years old.
Her suit against the Buffalo Police Department and individual defendants, including police detectives, remains pending on behalf of her estate. See: Peters v. City of Buffalo, U.S.D.C (W.D.N.Y), Case No. 1:10-cv-00953-WMS-JJM.
Additional sources: Associated Press, National Registry of Exonerations, www.nydailynews.com
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Related legal case
Peters v. City of Buffalo
|Cite||U.S.D.C (W.D.N.Y), Case No. 1:10-cv-00953-WMS-JJM|