New York Times
September 21, 2006
Ex-Inmate Says Pirro Ignored DNA Evidence That Freed Him
By JONATHAN P. HICKS
Claims that Jeanine F. Pirro ignored pleas to review DNA evidence
that ultimately cleared a convicted murderer were the latest thorny
issue to dog her campaign for attorney general.
Those claims came on the same day that Ms. Pirro, a Republican who
is the former Westchester district attorney, abruptly canceled a
news conference at which she was to call for reinstating the death
The man who was exonerated, Jeffrey Mark Deskovic, was convicted in
1991 of raping and killing a classmate at Peekskill High School. He
was cleared of the murder charges this week after Ms. Pirro's
successor, Janet DiFiore, reviewed the DNA evidence, which linked
the crime to another man. Mr. Deskovic was released.
Mr. Deskovic made his comments about Ms. Pirro yesterday at a news
conference organized by the Innocence Project, a legal service that
seeks to free wrongfully convicted people through DNA evidence. He
said that he wrote to Ms. Pirro from prison some years ago, telling
her that he had heard about her support of motions to free wrongly
convicted prisoners, and had asked her to look into his case.
"I told her, you know, there's an old case in your files in which
there's DNA evidence that shows that a man, in this case me, is
innocent," Mr. Deskovic said.
Someone in Ms. Pirro's office wrote back a "very rude letter," he
said, declining to review the case and saying that he should not
contact the office again except through a lawyer.
"She knew I had no money for a lawyer," Mr. Deskovic said. "So, in
other words, what she was telling me was: `I've got no time for you.
It's over. That's shut. That's it.' "
In an interview yesterday, Barry Scheck, a director of the Innocence
Project, said it was "cosmic irony" that Ms. Pirro "chose to hold a
press conference in support of the death penalty on the day that, by
sheer chance, another innocent man was exonerated."
Ms. Pirro had scheduled her news conference on the death penalty for
11 a.m., at the site of the World Trade Center, and her campaign
said the cancellation was not tied to the developments in the
Anne Marie Corbalis, a spokeswoman, said the event was canceled
because of gridlock in Manhattan caused by the meeting of the United
Nations General Assembly.
Ms. Corbalis said that Ms. Pirro was scheduled to appear at a noon
rally near the United Nations in support of Israel and realized that
the traffic would not enable her to appear at both events. When she
was asked whether Ms. Pirro had considered taking the subway to
Lower Manhattan, Ms. Corbalis said that was not practical because
Ms. Pirro had an afternoon appearance on Long Island.
Her campaign staff said she supported the actions by Ms. Pirro's
successor in the Deskovic case.
"This defendant was convicted by Jeanine's predecessor, and no new
evidence surfaced while she was the district attorney," John
Gallagher, a spokesman for the campaign, said in a statement.
"Based on this new evidence, Jeanine supports the district
attorney's decision to join in the application to overturn the
conviction. Jeanine has previously worked with the Innocence Project
to free wrongly convicted defendants and she supports their efforts."
At his news conference, Mr. Scheck looked at Mr. Deskovic, standing
beside him, and said, "This is the fifth man to be exonerated in a
murder case in New York State in the past 10 months, and for all
those who are thinking that it might be a good idea to reinstate
capital punishment in the state, please, please, please look at the
evidence in front of you."
September 21, 2006
DNA Evidence Frees a Man Imprisoned for Half His Life
By FERNANDA SANTOS
WHITE PLAINS, Sept. 20 — Jeffrey Mark Deskovic came of age in a
maximum-security prison, doing time for a crime he did not commit.
Sixteen years ago, Mr. Deskovic was convicted of raping, beating and
strangling a Peekskill High School classmate in a jealous fit of
rage. DNA evidence presented at his trial showed that semen in the
victim's body was not his, but the police testified that he had
On Wednesday, after he fought exhaustive legal battles and wrote
dozens of pleading letters that led him nowhere, Mr. Deskovic, 32,
walked out of the Westchester County Courthouse an overjoyed if
"I was supposed to finish my education, to begin a career," he
said. "The time period to have a family, to spend time with my
family, is lost. I lost all my friends. My family has become
strangers to me.
"There was a woman who I wanted to marry at the time that I was
convicted, and I lost that too," Mr. Deskovic added. "Given all
that, I ask everybody: Would you be angry?"
Among the people who Mr. Deskovic said refused to review his case is
Jeanine F. Pirro, the former Westchester district attorney, who took
office after his trial; she is now the Republican nominee for state
attorney general. The freed inmate and his lawyer expressed outrage
that Ms. Pirro had scheduled a news conference to call for the
reinstatement of the death penalty in New York just as Mr. Deskovic
was being released Wednesday morning, but Ms. Pirro ended up
canceling the event.
Ms. Pirro's successor, Janet DiFiore, agreed to run the evidence
through a national DNA databank after she was approached in June by
Barry Scheck, a director of the Innocence Project, which works to
free the wrongly convicted.
The decision to release Mr. Deskovic came after the DNA matched that
of a man who is serving time for another Westchester murder. Ms.
DiFiore declined to identify him but said he recently confessed to
killing Angela Correa, 15, the girl Mr. Deskovic was convicted of
killing, on Nov. 15, 1989.
Mr. Scheck said that Mr. Deskovic was the 184th person nationwide to
be exonerated because of DNA evidence since 1989, and that his case
highlights the importance of having the authorities videotape
interviews with suspects, as many police departments nationwide have
begun to do.
"We've learned a lot about false confessions in the past decade,"
Mr. Scheck said at a news conference. "Videotaping of confessions
and training of police officers can definitely lead to different
The case against Mr. Deskovic hinged largely on a confession he made
after six hours of questioning in a small interrogation room in
Brewster, where two Peekskill detectives took him for a polygraph
test, according to court documents.
Mr. Deskovic, a sophomore, and Ms. Correa, a freshman, were in two
classes together. Both were quiet and did not have a lot of friends,
according to his mother, Linda McGarr, and Ms. Correa's stepfather,
Pedro Rivera, who sat quietly in court to see Mr. Deskovic go free.
"I can't tell you why, but I've always had a feeling that the police
had the wrong guy," said Mr. Rivera.
Mr. Rivera met Mr. Deskovic for the first time at Ms. Correa's wake,
but saw him numerous times after that, he said. Mr. Deskovic went to
church with the family, dined at their home and took Ms. Correa's
younger sister to the movies, he recalled.
"Jeffrey cried a lot for Angela," Mr. Rivera said. "He was very
The police in Peekskill said Mr. Deskovic's behavior seemed odd. At
his trial, investigators said they grew suspicious of Mr. Deskovic
because he was late for school the day after Ms. Correa's murder and
seemed "overly distraught" about the death of a girl who was not his
For two months, Mr. Deskovic denied having anything to do with Ms.
Correa's death. Finally, in late January 1990, he agreed to the
polygraph test, which preceded the interrogation that led to his
"Believing in the criminal justice system and being fearful for
myself, I told them what they wanted to hear," Mr. Deskovic said, by
way of explanation. "I thought it was all going to be O.K. in the
end," because he was sure that the DNA testing would show his
In convicting Mr. Deskovic, the jury effectively chose to give more
weight to his tearful confession than to the DNA and other
The conviction seemed to indicate that jurors believed the
prosecution theory that semen found in Ms. Correa's body was likely
from a consensual sexual relationship with someone else.
Many convicted criminals were compelled to give DNA samples in
recent years, and the source of the semen in the victim's body was
apparently identified that way. Until such database comparisons were
available, there was no way for Mr. Deskovic to disprove the
prosecution's theory, because there was no way to pinpoint whose
semen it was.
While in prison, Mr. Deskovic said, he lived "from appeal to
appeal," trying not to think of the 15-years-to-life sentence that
hung over him. He finished high school, and earned an associate's
He played a lot of chess and learned how to type, fix computers and
paint walls, he said. He also learned how to cook.
A year into his sentence, he converted to Islam. "It was a major
factor in surviving prison in terms of my mental sanity,'' he said.
After his release, Mr. Deskovic went with his mother, two aunts and
two uncles for lunch at an Italian restaurant here. He ate tomatoes,
mozzarella sticks, stuffed mushrooms, mussels and a dish of baked
ziti. And for the first time, he talked on a cellphone.
"That was pretty weird,'' he said afterward. "I was looking for the
little holes where you talk into, and couldn't find them.''