Thursday, December 28, 2006

16 Years For Rape/Murder DNA Said He Didn’t Commit.This Could Happen To You!

Boy, 16, “Railroaded” Into Prison.

He was raised in Peekskill, NY, attending Assumption School, was an alter boy, and was on the Peekskill High School swim team and basketball team. Never in any trouble, he had a few friends, and enjoyed playing sports in his housing complex, Crossroads Apartments. He was raised by his mother and grandmother. His name: Jeffrey Deskovic.

On November 15, 1989 15-year-old Angela Correa, a Columbian immigrant, left her home to take pictures for a photography class which she attended at Peekskill High School. Two days later her strangled, beaten, and partially nude, body was found in the woods near Hillcrest Elementary School. On December 7, 1990, 16-year-old Jeffrey Deskovic was convicted of her rape and murder.

Sentenced to 15 years-to-life for the murder, 8-1/3-to-25 years to life for rape, and 1 year for possession of a weapon, all to run concurrently, Deskovic served 16 years. His freedom which came in September of this year resulted from a comparison of the DNA with the DNA data bank that should have been performed 7 years earlier. There was never a doubt that the DNA in the Rape Kit from Angela Correa was not that of Jeffrey Deskovic, nor did the hair samples found on her body match his. However, District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, when prevailed upon in 1999, refused to see if, in fact, the DNA matched anyone else.

As a result of the efforts earlier this year by the Innocence Project, District Attorney Janet DiFiore consented to an attempt to match the DNA to known donors. That effort produced a positive match with convicted felon Steven Cunningham, already serving time in State Prison for another murder some 3 ½ years following the killing of Angela Correa. Confronted with the evidence Cunningham eventually admitted the rape and murder.

Recently The Westchester Guardian had the opportunity to sit down with Deskovic on two separate occasions, for more than 10 hours. In a wide-ranging, free-flowing interview, he openly discussed the circumstances surrounding his prosecution and conviction, his incarceration and it’s impact on his life and his family’s life. Considering the length of his incarceration, his thrust throughout the interview was remarkably positive and constructively focused.

One is immediately impressed by his spirituality and kindness, and by the fact that he doesn’t appear to harbor any bitterness or anger, despite his ordeal and the many years that were wrongfully snatched from him.
On an autumn morning in November 1989 Jeffrey was walking to Peekskill High School from his apartment at the Crossroads complex, when he was accosted by two Peekskill City Police Officers, David Levine and Thomas McIntyre. They identified themselves and instructed him to get into their car. Taken to police headquarters he was questioned about the murder of Angela Correa, a girl that he only knew in passing from high school, and was not at all familiar with. Peekskill High School had arranged grief counselors for the students following the announcement of Correa’s murder.

Although he really didn’t have information that he thought would be helpful to the officers, he was, nevertheless, told he could be of assistance to them with whatever information he might have. Neither his mother, nor Peekskill High School Administrators were ever notified that he was being questioned. In fact, Officers Levine and McIntyre kept him at headquarters that day until 2pm, when he was finally released and went to school.
When he arrived at school he told his teacher, Mr. Thompkins, what had transpired. Thompkins, knowing Jeffrey, could not believe he was being questioned about the crime. Thompkins took Jeffrey to school Principal Sheldon Levine’s office. Levine, a cousin of Officer David Levine, also expressed doubt regarding Jeffrey’s possible involvement in the murder, but asked him, all the same, if he had been involved. The young man responded that he had not, after which the school notified his mother. Upon learning of what had transpired, his mother rushed to school to pick him up. She advised him never to speak to the police again.

According to Jeffrey, he was not a kid in the in crowd. He stated, “I hardly knew her and never dated her,” contrary to published reports at the time that he was “obsessed with her.”

Once his mother realized the implications of his situation, she took him to Attorney Asher Katz, who, in turn, referred them to Attorney Lou Ecker. Ecker immediately notified the Peekskill Police Department that he was retained by Jeffrey’s mother. He instructed the police that they were to direct any questions to him, and were not to interrogate Jeffrey, in his absence.

Unfortunately, a single mom, Jeffrey’s mother could not afford to keep Mr. Ecker. Jeffrey stated, “we were poor, we didn’t have the money to hire a lawyer.” As a result their only alternative was Legal Aid representation. Again, unfortunately, within 3 days Ecker notified the Peekskill Police Department about no longer rep-resenting Jeffrey. They went back to questioning him. Officer Levine told Jeffrey, words to the effect that he could feel assured that it was all right to speak to him and that he could “stop in from time to time.” He went further to remind the youth that they had been speaking on a friendly basis.

Jeffrey now felt it was all right to speak to the police, although he never told his mother. As many a 16-year-old might be, he was intrigued by police work after watching TV shows, and felt that he could help solve the murder. After all, he knew he was innocent!

He met with the police again at least 7 or 8 times. During one of those sessions he was asked to take a polygraph test, which he declined to do. However, he was later told if he took the test he would be given access to files as a part of his “assistance to them.” He was young and intrigued by the police, and agreed to do it.

During this time his mother was never notified by the Peekskill Police Department that her 16-year-old son was being taken in for questioning. The polygraph test would take him out of school for a whole day; the PeekskillPolice Department again never notified either his mother or Peekskill High School of his whereabouts.
Jeffrey was transported to Brewster, NY in Putnam County for his polygraph test, administered by an officerfrom the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department. Attached to the polygraph machine for most of the time, he was detained for at least 7 ½ hours.

Prior to taking the test he was given a booklet to read. Following the test Levine and McIntyre began reinterrogation of Jeffrey. He was offered a statement to sign that said, “he was not coerced,” but he refused to sign it. The test was inconclusive. By this time Jeffrey knew something was wrong, and kept insisting on his innocence, and would not give his interrogators the confession they wanted from him. Playing “ Good Cop/Bad Cop,” Police Officer McIntyre told Jeffrey that the other officers intended him harm and that he could not hold them off indefinitely. He told Jeffrey that he needed to say what they wanted to hear.

All during this time Jeffrey wanted to go home, but couldn’t. He was attached to a machine, and had no idea where he was, and had no means of getting back to Peekskill. It was all terribly frightening and intimidating to a 16-year-old boy. McIntyre was telling him that if he said what they wanted, he would not be arrested and they would stop pressuring him.

Frightened, and wanting to end the torture, Jeffrey concocted a story from recollections taken from newspaper articles he had read regarding the Correa murder. He said, “I hit her over the head with a Gatorade bottle,” and proceeded to tell his account of what happened, all the while knowing he didn’t commit the crime. But, he would say anything to please the police.

They extracted a “false confession.” Jeffrey recalled, “ I collapsed in tears into a fetal position at which point, Peekskill Police Lieutenant Eugene Tumolo, now Peekskill Police Chief Tumolo, stormed into the room and demanded I repeat the story again, even if it took all night.” Once he told the story again, he was immediately arrested, although he doesn’t recall being read his Miranda Rights. He was booked, but never signed a statement confessing to the crime.

On January 25, 1990 Jeffrey Deskovic was arrested on rape and murder charges. He was released on$50,000 bail and assigned a Legal Aid attorney. Several questions arise:

• According to published reports, there was no mention of broken glass found near the body during the investigation, although Jeffrey had falsely claimed he hit her in the head with a bottle.

• His mother was never notified by the Peekskill Police that her son was being held for questioning regarding the murder and was apparently the prime suspect. Why not?

• Having truthfully initially claimed he really didn’t know the victim, why did published reports state he was “obsessed with her and went into a jealous rage and killed her?”

• Given the fact that neither the DNA in the Rape Kit nor hairs found on the victim’s body matched Jeffrey’s, why did his prosecution go forward? After all, Lieutenant Tumolo had written to the FBI requesting that they process their testing of the DNA with all possible speed because the test results would determine either his guilt or innocence.

• Why was the bail for rape and murder set as low as $50,000 by Judge Nicholas Colabella, when ordinarily bail for such crimes would be $150,000 or more?

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