Deskovic Wins Wrongful Conviction Verdict

New York Law Journal

by Mark Hamblett

Jeffrey Deskovic Thursday won a $41.65 million verdict against Putnam County for his wrongful conviction for the rape and murder of a high school classmate that cost him 16 years behind bars.

Nick Brustin and Emma Freudenberger, partners with Neufeld Scheck & Brustin, said it took a federal jury about an hour and a half to reach a verdict, awarding Deskovic $25 million for time in prison, $15 million for pain and suffering and $1.65 million in lost wages. Deskovic's recovery, however, was limited to $10 million by a complicated side agreement between the parties.

During the trial before Southern District Judge Kenneth Karas (See Profile) the defense pressed its claim that Daniel Stephens, an investigator with the Putnam County Sheriff's office, used abusive interrogation tactics and polygraph examination to coerce Deskovic into falsely confessing to the murder and rape of 15-year-old Angela Correa of Peekskill on Nov. 15, 1989.

Karas issued a key ruling when he denied Stephens' motion to dismiss the civil rights action in 2012 (NYLJ, Sept. 27, 2012).

Deskovic, 41, was a 16-year-old high school sophomore when the crime occurred. He was convicted in 1991 and sentenced to 15 years to life. He was exonerated and released in 2006 after DNA analysis linked convict Stephen Cunningham to the crime and Cunningham confessed.

Stephen Wellinghorst of Harwood Lloyd in Hackensack represented Putnam County and Stephens at the trial.

Brustin said Deskovic, who started the Jeffery Deskovic Foundation for Justice to help clear the wrongfully convicted, was "thrilled" with the verdict. "He's basically dedicated his life to helping the wrongfully convicted," Brustin said (NYLJ, April 20, 2012).

Jennifer Bumgarner, County Attorney for Putnam County said in an interview that although her client disagrees with the verdict, "we are deeply sorry for what Mr. Deskovic had to go through, which is something no one should ever have to endure."

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