Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

Prosecutorial Misconduct: It Takes A Village

As evil and self-serving as Jeanine Pirro was in her handling of criminal prosecutions, even she could not have achieved her wrongful convictions and imprisonments without the willing, and mindless, cooperation of assistant
DAs, judges, police, medical examiners, newspaper and broadcast reporters, selfish jurors and corrupt attorneys. Horrific, intentional, miscarriages of justice such as was played out against sixteen-year-old Jeffrey
Deskovic, of Peekskill, prosecuted and convicted of the rape and murder of a fifteen-year-old schoolmate, despite the fact that DNA and hair samples did not match his, more often than not, do not happen as good-faith mistakes.

They happen as the result of a concerted and highly coordinated effort to convict someone, anyone, be they the actual perpetrator or not. As it happens, Deskovic was not prosecuted under Pirro, but rather under Carl Vergari, a district attorney generally held in high regard. Nevertheless, one aspect of criminal procedure in Westchester, as distinguished from New York City, was common to both Vergari’s and Pirro’s regime.

There is, and there has been, a distinct tendency on the part of the Westchester District Attorney’s office, over the years, to virtually adopt and accept as Synoptic Gospel the charges brought by police officers and civilians.
So many “he said, she said” rape and sodomy cases, so-called double homicides that were really murder/suicides, people charged as accomplices who actually were reporting the crime at the moment of their arrest, and crimes, many crimes that never actually occurred, produced convictions because of the network of mindless individuals more intent on bringing home their paychecks every two weeks than protecting the innocent.

Couple any one of the above scenarios with the propensity of many Westchester police departments to extract false confessions, not to mention the wearing down of witnesses until they produce the desired statement, the subornation of perjury, and tampering with evidence, and you have a ”law enforcement” environment hostile to justice. And, the outcome, as in the Deskovic case, may have doubly tragic implications. When an innocent individual, much as Jeffrey Deskovic was, is wrongly and maliciously prosecuted, and convicted, not only is his liberty, and virtually his life, stolen from him, but in that same transaction the actual perpetrator, the murderer, is left free to murder again, precisely as Steven Cunningham, rapist/murderer of 15-year-old Angela Correa, did when he murdered Pat Morrison, his girlfriend’s sister, 3 1/2 years later.

It’s a deadly and cynical game that is played, a competition that’s really all about winning, and nothing to do with justice or public safety. The evil effort most often has its genesis either with the complainant, police or civilian,
or with the district attorney. All other actors are supporting cast. In the Deskovic case the origins of the evil clearly came from within the Peekskill Police Department, specifically under the direction of Eugene Tumolo, the
Lieutenant who headed up the investigation. No doubt his “good work” was partly responsible for his rising to Chief of the Department. DA Carl Vergari, and his designee, ADA George Bolen, apparently had no problem
adopting the theory that a sixteen year old boy, with no prior record, who had no relationship with the victim, and whose DNA and hair did not match that which was found in, and on, her body, was nonetheless the vicious rapist/murderer who took the life of Angela Correa. Yes, they adopted the police theory despite the fact that even the victim’s father voiced doubt that young Jeffrey was the one.

Naturally, Mr. Bolen would have to come up with some explanation for the semen that was found in the poor dead girl’s vagina, that DNA from which did not match Jeffrey’s. No problem; good old George simply told
the jury that she had had consensual sex earlier with someone else. So what if he defamed the poor girl’s memory. She was dead after all, and the People had a case to win. Obviously, Neither Vergari, nor Bolen, ever thought there was any reason to question either the theory, or the methods of the Peekskill Police, over a little thing like DNA and hair follicles that didn’t match the accused.

Of course, even if the thought ever crossed Bolen’s mind, that perhaps this 16-year-old kid, Jeffrey Deskovic, was actually innocent, he wasn’t getting paid to question the actions or the motives of the Peekskill Police.
Somehow George, and many of his co-workers were only prepared to honor half of their mandated duty to “prosecute the guilty, and protect the innocent.”

To them there were no innocent persons, only those who they had failed to convict. And, it would later develop, under Pirro, that there would be no death by accident in Westchester, ask bus driver, John Spruill, and
certainly no self-defense killings in Westchester, ask former New York City Police Officer Richard DiGuglielmo, serving 20-Years to Life, for saving his father’s life from a bat-wielding assailant.

The Spruill case brings to mind one of the more prominent supporting actors, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Luis Roh. In the Spruill case Roh had actually invited four assistant district attorneys, and five White
Plains police officers to his morgue to observe the autopsy of John Spruill’s aunt. Dr. Roh is the kind of medical examiner who essentially tells the DA, “Let me know your theory of the case, and I will prove it.” The trouble is
juries find a medical examiner’s testimony to be quite compelling no matter how many holes the defense may find in it. Once committed to a theory as to manner and cause of death Dr. Roh will not admit the possibility that
his position might be mistaken, even if he must assume patently absurd stances in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence.

Many wonder how those who knowingly participate in such malicious, indeed, criminally conducted, prosecutions manage to sleep nights. Perhaps they might ask Chief Tumolo, Detectives David Levine, and Thomas McIntyre, or, better yet, former ADA George Bolen, if they can find him.

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