Buffalo News

After 13 years in prison, mother confident she'll be vindicated in murder of her daughter
"He's killed many women," Lynn DeJac said of former boyfriend Dennis Donohue. "I always knew that."


EDITOR’S NOTE Buffalo News reporter Tom Precious broke the news Wednesday to Lynn DeJac that her former boyfriend Dennis Donohue is a “person of interest” in the strangulation murder of her daughter. DeJac, who was convicted of that crime in 1994, has steadfastly insisted she is innocent. Precious interviewed her at the Bedford Hills state prison for women.

BEDFORD HILLS — Lynn DeJac heard the news and let out an uncontrolled, piercing scream that bounced off the walls of the visitors room inside the maximum-security prison here.

“Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” DeJac cried as she collapsed when told that Dennis P. Donohue had been charged with the long-ago murder of a South Buffalo woman and was a “person of interest” in two other strangulation slayings.

DeJac has contended for 14 years that Donohue, a former boyfriend, was the person who killed her 13- year-old daughter. That’s the crime that has imprisoned her since 1994 after a jury convicted her. It’s a crime that she has steadfastly insisted she did not commit.

A day earlier, a Buffalo News reporter told her Wednesday, police raised the possibility that Donohue could be a serial killer and said that they have begun looking into his connections to the strangulations of two women and DeJac’s daughter, Crystallynn M. Girard.
This was the first that DeJac learned of the police’s renewed interest in Donohue. She was both relieved and angry.

“He’s killed many women. I always knew that,” DeJac said after a prison sergeant and a fellow inmate helped her compose herself.

The reporter stressed that police had made no conclusions about any role Donohue might have had in her daughter’s death.

But DeJac, who has maintained her innocence in the slaying, seemed confident that her bid for freedom is coming.

“For me, it’s over,” she said in a mix of both relief and anger.

Prosecutors said DeJac was drunk and on cocaine during a fight with her daughter Feb. 14, 1993.

DeJac acknowledged Wednesday that she had been drinking that night but said that she was not taking drugs.

Donohue was her estranged boyfriend at the time, and she believes he went to her house that night — she was not home — and killed her daughter.

There are similarities in the three cases police are reviewing.

Donohue knew all three victims, investigators believe, and all were strangled in their homes.
Lynn DeJac
Lynn DeJac, shown here at a 1994 court appearance, is confident she will be freed, although former boyfriend Dennis Donohue is at this point only a "person of interest" in her daughter's killing.

Crystal Girard
Crystallynn M. Girard, 13, was strangled in her Babcock Street home Feb. 14, 1993, a crime for which her mother, Lynn DeJac, was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison.

EDITORIAL Is it Capozzi again?
The 55-year-old Town of Tonawanda man was taken into custody Tuesday and charged with killing Joan Giambra in her South Buffalo home in September 1993, seven months after DeJac’s daughter was slain.

Police also are looking at whether Donohue is connected to the killing of Carol Reed, who was strangled in her Delaware Avenue apartment Sept. 5, 1975.

DeJac repeatedly stressed her innocence during an 80-minute interview Wednesday in a visitors and small conference room deep behind several sets of bars and razor wire in this state prison in Westchester County.

She said she often hoped for Donohue to die a slow and painful death, but has since come to feel sorry for him. Now, she said, she hopes he tells the truth to bring closure to her case and the others.

That may be the best hope for De- Jac, who will turn 44 in November.

Key evidence missing
Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark would not discuss De- Jac’s case Wednesday but said the law requires that anyone seeking to overturn a verdict present newly discovered evidence. Such new evidence, he added, must be so strong that, had it been available at trial, it likely would have yielded a more favorable verdict.

Seven months ago, Clark was asked similar questions about the possibility of finding evidence that would overturn the guilty verdict against Anthony J. Capozzi, who was wrongfully convicted of raping two women in Delaware Park. Those crimes actually were committed by Altemio C. Sanchez, the Bike Path Killer.

Citing the tough legal criteria for setting aside a jury’s verdict, Clark said at the time, “It’s an uphill battle for them.”

The DNA evidence in the Capozzi case was found in an Erie County Medical Center drawer, and he is now a free man.

The case against DeJac was largely circumstantial, including her behavior around the time of the killing. But a longtime family friend of DeJac testified that about three months after the girl’s slaying, DeJac told him she had “lost it” on drugs and alcohol, leading her to strangle her daughter during a late-night quarrel.

The friend told jurors that a drunken DeJac had sat with him in a South Buffalo bar and also told him she “didn’t think she was dead” after her daughter became unconscious during the fight.

Defense attorney Andrew C. LoTempio, though, noted in the trial that the family friend was facing a possible life sentence on a forgery indictment and contended that he was backed into a corner and made up the confession story to get himself out of trouble.

This week, LoTempio said he has always believed that Donohue killed Crystallynn and that an innocent woman was imprisoned.

“This has bothered me ever since it happened,” LoTempio said about De- Jac’s conviction. “I recently received a letter from her begging for my help. . . . I really believe she’s innocent.”

One question remaining is what happened to a shirt that police recovered from Donohue’s apartment after Crystallynn was found slain.
A dot of blood was on the shirt Donohue acknowledged wearing on the night Crystallynn was killed, but a forensic chemist told the jury that there was not enough blood to test for type, and investigators could not determine how long the blood had been on the shirt. It is unclear whether technological advances would allow experts to test that blood now and whether that piece of evidence still exists.

But DeJac believes police could find more murders connected to Donohue, saying he might have had a role in the death of a woman years ago in Key West, Fla.

Outfitted in her prison-issued green shirt and pants, DeJac, who has long brown and gray hair, offered a strong mix of emotions during the interview.

Memories of daughter
DeJac questioned why authorities never believed her, lashed out at the news media for not investigating her case and talked of the toll the last 14 years have had on her three children and her husband.

She talked about getting word that her son, who was 8 at the time of the 1993 murder, was in the Army — and her fear that another of her children might die. Edward R. Girard is a sergeant, currently home on leave while serving his second 12-month tour in Iraq.

And she talked of her twins, born about the time she was sentenced to prison.

DeJac said she has not had a restful night’s sleep since coming to Bedford Hills. Her insistence that she did not kill her daughter, she said, kept her awake and thinking of ways to convince someone to take her case.

In June, she wrote to the Innocence Project, a New York City group with a single mission: exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA and other evidence. The group’s work has helped free 205 people from prison across the country in recent years.

A week ago, DeJac said, lawyers with the Innocence Project sent her a package about her case, including waivers for them to begin gathering evidence and conducting interviews.

DeJac said she has thought of dying many times to take away the pain she said she endures from sitting behind bars for a crime she insists she did not commit. But she said the memories of her daughter have kept her hope going.

She also said she knew one day that it would become clear that Donohue — as her sister told reporters on the day of her sentencing — was a serial killer.

Prison rules require at least a week’s notice for reporters to be able to tape and take notes during an interview. The News could not bring in a recorder or a pen during its session Wednesday with DeJac.

DeJac, who did not testify during her trial, shied away from discussing many details of her case, saying she wanted lawyers for the Innocence Project to first clear such matters.

Prosecutors at the time of her trial said DeJac had committed the “callous, brutal, heinous” murder of her child.

Judge rejects defense
The judge hearing the case, Senior Erie County Judge Michael L. D’Amico, rejected DeJac’s effort to get a new trial on a claim that Donohue had killed her daughter. Her lawyers sought to raise suspicions about Donohue because he had been questioned in the 1975 strangulation of Reed, which has never been solved.

But the judge called the defense “solely a red herring.”

DeJac, a can of soft drink and tissues at her side, stressed that she did not want anything to interfere with what she believes will be her eventual exoneration.

“I just want to go home,” she said.

News Staff Reporters Gene Warner and Vanessa Thomas contributed to this report.

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