DNA clears Peekskill, NY man after serving 15 years in prison


(Original Publication: September 20, 2006)

A man in prison since 1991 after being convicted of raping and killing a Peekskill High School classmate will go free now because a DNA match has linked another inmate to the crime.
Jeffrey Deskovic
Jeffrey Deskovic

Jeffrey Deskovic was 17 when a jury found him guilty of murder in the Nov. 15, 1989, death of Angela Correa. The jury knew then that DNA evidence did not match Deskovic, but jury members convicted him based on testimony from a Peekskill detective that Deskovic had confessed to the crime.

Deskovic, now 33, could be released as early as this morning from the Westchester County Courthouse. A hearing is scheduled at which his lawyers from The Innocence Project will ask acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Molea to overturn the verdict.

Prosecutors will join in the application, said Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore. The DNA match was confirmed at the end of last week, and the inmate, whom authorities would not identify and who is serving a life term for murder, has confessed to killing Correa, they said.

The 15-year-old girl's partially clad body was discovered in the woods behind Hillcrest Elementary School two days after her parents reported her missing. She was last seen leaving her home on Main Street to take outdoor pictures for a photography class in school.

When Deskovic was arrested two months later, police said he had an obsession with Correa and provided details that only the killer would have known. Detective Thomas McIntyre later testified that Deskovic told him he had lost his temper and hit Correa in the back of the head with a Gatorade bottle, and that he had put his hand over her mouth and "may have left it there too long."

But Deskovic's lawyer maintained that the confession was coerced and that he gave it after hours of police interrogation that violated his constitutional rights because he wasn't given an opportunity to get a lawyer. But the jury heard the confession and relied on it to convict Deskovic.

The sudden turnabout came as a shock last night to Correa's stepfather, Pedro Rivera. He said he always suspected Peekskill police had done a shoddy job of investigating the killing but was convinced of Deskovic's guilt because the police said he had confessed.

"Why didn't anyone tell me? The least they could do is contact me," he said. "It's so weird. It's a shock after all these years. ... I feel bad for anybody who's in prison but didn't do it. That kid's been there for almost 20 years."

Deskovic's lawyers, Barry Scheck and Nina Morrison, and family could not be reached for comment last night, nor could Peekskill Police Chief Eugene Tumolo, who was a lieutenant at the time of the killing.

Deskovic was represented at the trial by Peter Insero, then of the Westchester Legal Aid Society.
He could not be reached for comment, but Stephen Pittari, head of the society, said the case proved how all confessions should be videotaped, and police and prosecutors must respect the right to counsel.

"It's terrible what happened to him," Pittari said. "It's bad enough to do hard time, but when you're an innocent person and a 17-year-old at that? You've lost your entire youth and young adulthood."

When it came to sentencing, state Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Collabella told Deskovic "maybe you are innocent" but that he had agreed with the verdict.

He gave the teenager the minimum term for second-degree murder, 15 years to life in prison.
Deskovic had exhausted his appeals and was turned down for release when he went before the Parole Board for the first time last year.

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