Warwick Beacon

A normal life?

By KELLY SMITH

06/05/2003

It has been seven months since Jeffrey Scott Hornoff walked out of prison a free man. With the clothes on his back, a small plastic bag of personal belongings and $500, he was ready to rebuild his life. Or was he?

The former Warwick Police officer, who was wrongfully convicted of the 1989 murder of Victoria Cushman, spent six and a half years of his life behind bars. His youngest son was born three months after he arrived, and every day that followed he wished and hoped and prayed for a miracle.

Fast forward to today. Since he was officially cleared of all charges in January after Todd Barry of Cranston stepped forward and confessed to the murder in November 2002, Hornoff has been reconnecting with his three sons, taking care of his mother, and spending time with his fiancée, Tina Dauphinais. He marvels at the things that have changed since he was in prison and continues to work on the hobby he picked up while incarcerated, drawing.

Hornoff now lives in Cranston with Dauphinais, whom he plans on marrying in September. He has no money, no job and recently discovered the City of Warwick has denied him his back pay, benefits and pension. Each day he endures the physical, emotional and financial heartache his wrongful imprisonment has brought on. Many of his days are consumed with networking and letter writing, doing whatever he can to help others like him and work on changing the system. He hasn’t seen any of the movie or book offers so many expected he would receive.

Two of the groups that he and Dauphinais are involved with are “The Innocence Project,” an organization headed by renowned attorney Barry Scheck designed to free the innocent based on DNA evidence, and the Life After Exoneration Project. LAEP is an organization created after Scheck and Innocence Project partner Peter Neufeld began to notice a trend in exonerees being released from prison with nowhere to go and no idea what to do. It aims to make society aware that there is no rehabilitative system in place for exonerees and move forward with setting one up.

In fact, according to their website, as of today, The Innocence Project has successfully worked to free 128 innocent men and women and not a single one has received any transitional services upon release. However, parolees who were (maybe) guilty and served their time have any number of resources available to them, including healthcare, job placement and help with living arrangements.

According to Aliza Kaplan, deputy director of The Innocence Project, LAEP is still in the beginning stages, and, once the initial seed money has been raised and the project has established itself, it will branch out onto its own and begin to raise funds and set up social services for exonerees.

“Life After Exoneration is still being created, and currently we are in the process of doing all the background work,” she said. “The goal will be to have a caseworker that personally advocates for each exoneree.”

When asked why exonerees are not offered the same services as parolees, Kaplan said, “That’s a very good question. They barely get an apology. The whole way the state deals with it is close to unbearable.”

In an effort to jumpstart this cause, The Innocence Project held a conference in New York City May 8-11. It invited all of its exonerees to attend. Although Hornoff was released because Barry stepped forward, he had hoped that DNA would be his key to freedom. He continues to work closely with the organizations that help exonerees, and he and Dauphinais were invited to attend the convention.

Sponsored entirely by Jason and Wendy Flom, a New York couple who also wants to see justice served for the innocent wrongly accused, the weekend set up workshops where exonerees and supporters talked about many of the different things on their mind, including what type of services they think exonerees should be entitled to upon their release, invited them to attend a fundraiser for LAEP, and provided everyone with tickets to “The Exonerated,” a play written solely from letters to home and trial transcripts from exonerees.

“By the end, everyone was crying, at least all the exonerees and their supporters,” said Dauphinais.

Although while in New York City the couple met a number of celebrities, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Ed Norton, Selma Hayek, Tim Daly (he starred in the play) and “NYPD Blue” producer Bill Clark, the best part was meeting the other exonerees.

“A lot of them I had seen in newspaper articles and magazines,” he said. “Tina would download them from the Internet or send the clippings. They gave us hope. They gave us inspiration.”

The couple talked about exoneree Eddie Joe Lloyd. Released after DNA evidence from a cigarette butt cleared him from the rape and murder of a 17-year-old girl, after testing from the rape kit test was considered inconclusive, Lloyd appeared on “The Today Show.” Both watched it at the same time and spoke on the phone shortly after. If it could happen for him, it could happen for Hornoff.

“I remember sitting on my bunk watching him on ‘The Today Show,’” he said. “I was really happy for him and for his family. But, I kept wondering, ‘When’s it going to be my turn?’”

When they met Lloyd, they hugged.

“It was an honor,” said Dauphinais.

While the weekend was somewhat therapeutic for Hornoff, he knows there is still a lot of work to be done. His already bad back worsened after six and a half years of sleeping on a metal cot and flimsy mattress, and he has yet to see a doctor. No healthcare services are available to him, and whatever free mental health counseling that might be available to him could never meet his needs for treatment related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or legal abuse syndrome.

According to marriage and family therapist and author of the book “Overcoming the Devastation of Legal Abuse Syndrome,” Karin Huffer, legal abuse syndrome, a phrase she coined, is the mistreatment of individuals by the legal system due to the power it has over them.

“I could see that it was similar to PTSD,” she said in a telephone interview from her office in Las Vegas. “When you walk into a situation where you have much less power compared to the system, there is always a chance for abuse.”

Huffer said overcoming the devastation of legal abuse syndrome has been recognized by many professionals and most agree that the individuals that are abused to the extent that they are wrongfully imprisoned suffer greatly from PTSD.

PTSD was first used to describe war veterans upon their return. Many had reoccurring nightmares about the war, difficulty sleeping and could not readjust easily to normal life. Nowadays, PTSD is used to describe the mental condition suffered after a person has lived through any traumatic experience.

Huffer said an exoneree’s experience in prison is more like that of a prisoner of war. Much like a POW, or any other soldier that has been away from home, when an exoneree returns to society they find that nothing was how they left it and life has gone on without them. They are haunted by what they have seen and what they have been through. Putting an innocent person in prison, said Huffer, is like putting someone in a battlefield. In relationship to Hornoff, Huffer said he most likely has gone through a series of changes, and getting past his wrongful imprisonment will take time.

“To begin with,” she said, “all of his body’s chemistry has changed as a result of this. He is mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted because he has been unable to treat it. He still has no way to process this. As part of getting over this trauma, society has to do the right thing.”

Huffer went on to say that “it is society’s job to restore him and part of that process is to say we’re sorry. That is tough for us to do because we lost the ability to say we’re sorry and instead we try to just descend the wrong.”

“Hearing I’m sorry facilitates his healing,” she said. “By not getting it, it adds more abuse and prevents his recovery.”

While in prison, Hornoff lost the ability to make choices. Not just on the surface, as he never chose what clothes to wear, what meals to eat, when to go outside or where to go when he did, but mentally he forgot how. Now, a trip to the grocery store can be overwhelming. While it can be exciting to think about the many different cheeses, the vast array of cereal and the numerous kinds of cookies, Hornoff often finds he can’t decide which brand to buy. Which chips would he prefer, salt and vinegar or B-B-Q? Ooh, how about sour cream and onion? Lays, Wise, Pringles? Rippled or plain?

Another thing that has been hard for Hornoff is the tremendous loss of a career.

“I didn’t just lose a job,” he said. “I lost a career. I chose to be a police officer. I went to school and chose that path for myself.

Hornoff said that although he is always a police officer in his heart, he doubts he could ever go back.

Speaking of having a chosen career, one of the struggles Hornoff has faced is the burning question everyone keeps asking: Why hasn’t he found a job yet? The answer is more complicated than it might seem. For starters, Hornoff said he has been keeping busy doing the things he feels he must do. He has written letters to Judge Mark Pfeiffer of the Rhode Island Supreme Court requesting that officials turn over the grand jury transcripts his friend, Paul Rossier, was granted access to more than six years ago. Rossier is serving time for sexual assault. While in prison together, Rossier told Hornoff the act was consensual and he feels the transcripts will prove lies and inconsistencies made by East Providence Police. As a result of Hornoff’s efforts, Rossier has been granted a hearing. The first two were postponed, but a third is set for tomorrow. Hornoff said he also sent letters to Attorney General Patrick Lynch requesting that he appoint an independent investigator just as happened in 1995 with the Warwick Police Department.

“Patrick Lynch instead forwarded my request to Governor Carcieri, who forwarded it to the state police internal affairs, and they contacted me,” he said. “I told them I don’t think they are able to investigate their own any better than Warwick was able to and that I still intended to pursue seeking an independent investigation into the state police detectives’ conduct and misconduct [during his investigation and trial].”

Hornoff feels there was an effort to convict him, regardless of whether he was innocent or guilty, even if it meant using manipulation and deceit.

Aside from spending his time reaching out to different groups and fighting to help others he believes are wrongfully imprisoned, he has been speaking at different colleges and universities. So far, he has talked with students at Salve Regina, Roger Williams, Boston University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. It is, he said, what he needs to do.

“I’ve been putting myself out there to the colleges and universities to let them know I am interested in speaking at their school to guest lecture and/or teach,” said Hornoff. “I really feel it’s part of my new path to educate people who are or are going to be making the same decisions such as the ones that led to my wrongful imprisonment. At the same time, I’m still trying to de-program myself. My family and I have gone through a terrible ordeal. But I am a good dad. My boys and I have a really good time.

“I’ve been putting myself out there,” he continued. “I’ve looked into a couple of different positions and I’ve been extremely disappointed. But remember, it was only recently the City of Warwick denied me my back pay and benefits, and I’ve been dealing with that.

Hornoff said prior to his release many people told him not to be surprised if the mayor and the chief of police were outside the courthouse with a check for him waiting to shake his hand.

“That didn’t happen,” he said.

Instead, he said, people approach him all the time letting him know they are upset with the city for not giving him his back pay and benefits.

“They want to express their frustration with the city and the mayor for not giving me my back pay, benefits and pension,” he said.

Hornoff and Dauphinais said it is most difficult for them to get people to understand that it isn’t just as easy as filling out a job application. Readjustment takes time.

“We’re trying to get across what it is about exonerees that is different,” said Dauphinais. “They suffer from legal abuse syndrome. They have been locked up, all control has been taken away from them and then they are supposed to just be thankful for getting out? We are very thankful, but freedom isn’t free. We saw this same kind of thing with POWs. That’s what happens when you are wrongfully imprisoned. You’re a POW battling the legal system and society because now you’ve been portrayed to look like a murderer, a rapist or a child molester. People cannot conceive that. They have no concept of how horrible that really was.”

However, Dauphinais also was adamant about making sure the public doesn’t look at Hornoff like he cannot function or that there is something wrong with him. In fact, Huffer said it would be abnormal if he weren’t experiencing this.

“Scott has PTSD, but it doesn’t mean he can’t be a good guy,” she said. “He doesn’t want people to think he’s nuts. He’s normal. He can function, but in a limited kind of way. His boundaries have changed and he’s trying to figure out what that line is. It takes time. He’s doing incredibly well, but still has issues he’s working on. He needs to figure out where he needs to go, and that takes time.”

Dauphinais said that anyone who has difficulty truly understanding Hornoff’s experience ought to lock themselves in their bathroom and imagine what it would be like to be in there for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“How would you feel? People expect him to go to just any counselor,” said Dauphinais. “But no, you can’t. You need counselors who know about this [PTSD] and the experts all cost beaucoup bucks. They’re not taking people for free. People think there is so much [help] out there, but with no children in the house he gets nothing. It’s been the same way across the country.”

As a result of all these factors, Hornoff has struggled financially. The National Police Defense Foundation has set up a fund in his name that will help him with his living expenses. The NPDF is a non-profit organization that, according to its website, sets out to provide important medical and legal support services to the national law enforcement community, as well as administer several NPDF law enforcement programs involving public safety and child safety programs. The NPDF Executive & Advisory Board is composed of all volunteers and represents distinguished elected officials as well as the directors of several law enforcement, civil rights and community organizations. While in New York, the couple had the opportunity to stop by NPDF’s annual awards ceremony, where Hornoff was honored with a Profile in Courage award. Coincidentally, the ceremony was in NYC at the same time and the couple managed to find time to stop by Thursday night.

“I accepted that award on behalf of my mom, Tina and my boys,” he said. “They were the real courageous ones.”

All donations are 100 percent tax deductible and go directly to Hornoff.

“I submit receipts for living expenses,” said Hornoff, “and they’ll reimburse me out of that fund. Everyone thought that when I got out I’d be a walking goldmine. [They thought I’d be offered] book and movie deals. That’s not the case. Because my record still hasn’t been cleared, I can’t even open a checking account.”

Hornoff and Dauphinais are hopeful that in time, once LAEP spreads it message and establishes programs for others that fall in Hornoff’s shoes, these types of funds wont need to be set up.

“He’s like a POW coming back and life has gone on without him,” said Dauphinais. “He has done really well, but it is a lot harder than people think. When Scott was released, he had $500 in a bank account. He had no clothes and needed to spend $200 just on a new wardrobe. There is nothing out there for these men and women. The VA is set up for soldiers, but there is nothing for exonerees.”

Donations can be sent to The Scott Hornoff Fund, NPDF, 21 Kilmer Drive, Bldg. 2, Suite F, Morganville, NJ 07751. Credit card donations can be made by dialing 1-888-SAFECOP. For information on or to order Huffer’s book, “Overcoming the Devastation of Legal Abuse Syndrome,” call 1-800-829-8969. Information on The Innocence Project can be found at www.theinnocenceproject.org


Life After Exoneration
Truth in Justice