An exonerated former New York prisoner received $21.9 million as a result of settlements and a jury verdict in a federal lawsuit claiming that law enforcement officials were responsible for his wrongful convictions for rape and homicide.
Jeffrey Deskovic, 16, was arrested in January 1990 for the murder of 15-year-old Angela Correa in Peekskill. His arrest was based on a confession obtained during a six-hour police interrogation, which was not attended by his parents or an attorney.
After a jury found him guilty in December 1990, Deskovic was sentenced to 15 years to life; he served almost 16 years in prison. His conviction was vacated in September 2006 after DNA evidence connected the semen recovered from the victim to another suspect, Stephen Cunningham, who ultimately admitted he had raped and murdered Correa.
Following his release, Deskovic filed a civil rights action alleging he was denied due process, maliciously prosecuted and falsely incarcerated. One of the defendants was Deskovic’s court-appointed attorney from the Legal Aid Society, who reached an undisclosed settlement in 2010.
In 2011, police officers Walter Brovarski, David Levine, Thomas McIntyre and Eugene Tumulo, plus the City of Peekskill, agreed to a settlement that required the city to pay $5.4 million. Westchester County Coroners Millard Hyland and Dr. Louis Roh then reached a $6.5 million settlement which resolved Deskovic’s claims against Westchester County.
The matter proceeded to trial against former investigator Daniel Stephens, who was employed by the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department. Deskovic alleged that “Stephens and the other investigators disclosed confidential details of the investigation,” hoping that he “would retain that information, incorporate it into his own account of the incident, and thereby implicate himself,” according to Verdictsearch.com.
Deskovic further claimed his conviction was aided by fabrications. His attorneys argued that prosecutors knew the semen found in the victim could not be linked to him, and Stephens manufactured false evidence indicating the semen was the residual product of a sexual encounter not linked to the rape and murder.
Prior to the jury trial, which began in October 2014, the parties stipulated to $1.65 million in lost wages during Deskovic’s incarceration. The jury returned a verdict of $40 million upon finding that Stephens had coerced Deskovic’s confession and fabricated evidence, but the parties had agreed in advance that damages would be capped at $10 million under a high-low settlement agreement.
“I feel elated. The jury obviously saw that Daniel Stephens’ testimony was not truthful,” Deskovic stated after the verdict. “I feel like I finally got the fair trial I never got before.”
Combined with the $11.9 million in pretrial settlements, Deskovic received a total of $21.9 million, inclusive of attorney fees and costs. The settlement was finalized and the case closed in March 2015; Deskovic was represented by attorneys with the law firm of Neufeld, Scheck & Brustin, LLP. See: Deskovic v. City of Peekskill, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 7:07-cv-08150-KMK.
PLN previously published an interview with Jeff Deskovic, and ran his article on how U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor had denied his appeal when she served on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. [See: PLN, Aug. 2013, p.1; Aug. 2009, p.12].
Deskovic used some of his settlement funds to create the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, a New York City-based non-profit organization that works on wrongful conviction cases. Further, following his release from prison he graduated with criminal justice degrees from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Additional sources: www.verdictsearch.com, www.lohud.com, www.nbcnewyork.com
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Related legal case
Deskovic v. City of Peekskill
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 7:07-cv-08150-KMK.|