Jeffrey Deskovic Makes Us Proud
The Journal News
A Journal News Editorial
The next chapter in an amazing journey from victim of injustice to fighter for justice
Pace University’s Elisabeth Haub School of Law in White Plains started classes Monday. Among its first-year law students: Jeffrey Deskovic, who was locked away at age 17 for a heinous crime that he didn’t commit; who was finally set free after 16 years; who has devoted his time, energy and money to help other innocents earn exoneration.
It has been an amazing journey for Deskovic, who was convicted in the 1989 rape and murder of a Peekskill High School classmate, and then exonerated in 2006 with the help of DNA evidence. His case was a study not only in coercion, but also cold-blooded neglect.
Now Deskovic, who hadn’t even had a chance to graduate high school before he was locked away, is on a path to gain the legal knowledge, and credentials, to further help others whose lives were destroyed by wrongful convictions.
His first day went well. "I knew about 90 percent" of what was reviewed in class. But, he added: "It's early."
Deskovic already earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He formed The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, which assists the wrongly convicted at various points, including advocating for their cases to be reopened, and helping exonerated people reintegrate into society. The foundation also advocates for protocols and legislative changes to ensure integrity in the criminal justice system. Deskovic has written extensively, and lectured, about his case and similar injustices.
Pace Law School Prof. Bennett Gershman has known Deskovic for years and championed Deskovic’s acceptance into Pace’s program. “He’s so passionate,” Gershman said Monday. “There’s just no way you could turn him down.”
After all the law did to Deskovic — evidence fabricated at his trial, a coerced false confession, the twisting of clear DNA evidence that should have cleared him — he still hopes to use the law to help others right wrongs done against them.
"I want to be able to take on some clients through the foundation personally," Deskovic said Monday. "I want to be the attorney of record." Deskovic says he wants to use the extra credential of a J.D. as he advocates for policies that would prevent wrongful convictions.
“He wants to become a lawyer? How can you not give him a chance? How you can turn away somebody like this who has persevered?” Gershman said. “I’m just so proud of him and what he’s done.”
Pace University's White Plains location holds sentimental value, Deskovic, 42, said. It's nine blocks from the County Court; that's where he was convicted as a teen, and the place he walked out of, a free man, after he was exonerated.
He also said he was glad Pace "took a chance on me."
We are, too. Good luck Jeff. The world of American jurisprudence is lucky to have you