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Jeff Deskovic: Exonerated at 32, still feeling 17

Posted: February 4, 2007

A New York Times article today profiles Jeff Deskovic, who was freed in September, 2006 after serving 15 years for a murder he didn't commit.

Read the full story. (New York Times, 02/04/07, free subscription required)

More information on Jeff Deskovic:


Tags: New York, Jeff Deskovic



New poll shows decrease in public support of death penalty

Posted: June 12, 2007 3:59 pm

A report released this week by the Death Penalty Information Center shows an erosion of public support for the death penalty in the United States over the last decade and points to DNA exonerations as a major cause of this change.

A significant majority said it is time for a moratorium on the death penalty while policies are reviewed and nearly 70% said reforms would not eliminate all wrongful convictions and executions. The poll included 1,000 adults nationwide and had a margin of error of + 3.1 %

“Public confidence in the death penalty has clearly eroded over the past 10 years, mostly as a result of DNA exonerations. Whether it is concern about executing the innocent, beliefs that the death penalty is not a deterrent, moral objections to taking human life, or a general sense that the system is too broken to be fixed, the bottom line is the same: Americans are moving away from the death penalty,” said Richard Dieter, DPIC’s Executive Director.

Read the report here. (Death Penalty Information Center, 6/9/2007)
New York exoneree Jeff Deskovic told the New York Daily News recently that he would have been executed if he weren’t so young when convicted.
Deskovic said, "I had to give up 17 years of my life. I can't get the time back, but I did get my freedom.

"If I'd got the death sentence, nobody could have given me my life back."

Read the full story. (New York Daily News, 06/10/2007)
And the Tennessee House of Representatives passed a bill last week to create a panel studying the state’s death penalty system. Tennessee has more than 100 prisoners on death row and has executed one person in 2007.

Tags: Tennessee, New York, Jeff Deskovic



District Attorney’s report on New York wrongful conviction fuels statewide reform efforts

Posted: July 3, 2007 12:00 pm

Westchester County (NY) District Attorney Janet DiFiore released a report yesterday investigating Jeffrey Deskovic’s wrongful conviction and calling for reform in the state’s criminal justice system.  Deskovic was convicted in 1990 of the murder and rape of a high school classmate and exonerated last year by DNA evidence. 

The investigation, which was commissioned by the DA and conducted by a group of outside experts, outlined several factors that led to Deskovic’s conviction.  Each of the problems identified in the report would be addressed statewide in reforms that have not yet passed in the New York State Legislature but could be revisited when legislators reconvene on July 16.

Among its recommendations are several measures to prevent wrongful convictions, like videotaping police interrogations and giving defendants the right, before and after trial, to have DNA evidence run through databanks to try to confirm the identity of actual perpetrators.

The Legislature has considered similar measures but adjourned late last month without passing any of them.

“This report makes clear that the system has not been fixed to prevent other people from enduring the tragic injustice Jeffrey Deskovic suffered,” said Barry C. Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, which secured Mr. Deskovic’s exoneration.

Read the full article here. (New York Times, 07/03/2007)
Read media coverage of the report:

Playing Down DNA Evidence Contributed to Wrongful Conviction, Review Finds - New York Times

Report blames wrongful conviction on 'tunnel vision' of police, lawyers - The Journal News

Man Wrongfully Convicted Of Rape And Murder - WNBC | New York

Read the full report here.

Read the Innocence Project press release here.

Learn more about reforms pending in New York State here.

Tags: New York, Jeff Deskovic



False confessions conference in El Paso, Texas

Posted: September 12, 2007 4:00 pm

The University of Texas at El Paso will host a conference from September 27-29 bringing together experts on interrogations and false confessions. The conference’s keynote speaker will be Innocence Project client Jeff Deskovic, who was exonerated in 2006 after serving more than 15 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. He was convicted as a teenager when he falsely confessed to the crime after several hours of interrogation and three polygraph tests.

Learn more about the conference and register to attend.

Read more about false confessions and proposed reforms to interrogation procedures to prevent wrongful convictions.

Read about other wrongful convictions caused, at least in part, by a false confession.

Tags: Jeff Deskovic



Why do innocent people confess?

Posted: October 5, 2007 12:05 pm

An article on this week considers the reasons innocent people have confessed to crimes they didn’t commit, and discovers a common refrain from exonerees who falsely confess after long police interrogations –  “I just wanted to go home.”

When 16-year-old Korey Wise entered the Central Park Police Precinct at 102nd St on April 20, 1989, he didn't realize what he was walking into. It was the day after one of the most grisly crimes in official New York memory-the brutal sexual assault of a woman who would become known as the Central Park Jogger-and Wise had been asked to come in along with other black and Latino youths who had allegedly been in the park the night before. Wise was taken to the scene of the crime and shown graphic pictures of the woman's injuries, which included a fractured skull. Eventually, his visit to the police station would lead to an interrogation and, after nine hours of questioning, a videotaped confession that was confusing, convoluted, and chilling.

Read the full story here. (, 10/02/07)
And visit today to join a lively discussion on the issue of false confessions and reforms to prevent them.

Read more about reforms that can prevent false confessions

Tags: Jeff Deskovic, Christopher Ochoa, Korey Wise, False Confessions, False Confessions, Norfolk Four



Lecture on wrongful convictions tonight in Westchester County, NY

Posted: October 11, 2007 10:11 am

Purchase College in New York is holding a lecture tonight entitled “Innocence: The Wrongfully Convicted in America.” Among the event’s featured speakers will be Jeff Deskovic, who was wrongfully incarcerated for 15 years before DNA analysis proved his innocence.
The lecture will take place at 6:30pm. For more information, visit Purchase College’s website.

Read more about Deskovic’s case here and visit his website to see his upcoming speaking events.

Tags: Jeff Deskovic



Jeffrey Deskovic celebrates his first year of freedom on Friday

Posted: October 30, 2007 11:55 am

On November 2, 2006, Jeffrey Deskovic was officially exonerated of an upstate New York rape and murder for which he had spent nearly half his life behind bars.

Deskovic’s injustice began in 1989, when police focused on him as a suspect after his high school classmate was raped and killed in Westchester County, New York. Despite being cleared as a suspect by DNA testing before the trial began, the prosecution continued with their case against Deskovic on the basis of an alleged confession he gave after three polygraph sessions and six hours of extensive questioning by detectives. He was convicted of murder based on this confession and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

In January 2006 the Innocence Project took Deskovic’s case, asking state officials to check the foreign DNA profile from the crime scene against the state database. In September 2006, the semen was matched to a convicted murderer and Deskovic was subsequently released from prison, his conviction overturned. Deskovic was released later that same month, and officially cleared on November 2.

In July 2007, the Westchester County District Attorney released a report on Deskovic’s wrongful conviction, “showing the urgent need for reform – and what’s at stake.” Read the full report here.

Today Deskovic is working toward his bachelor’s degree at Mercy College in New York and speaks frequently on the issues of wrongful convictions and false confessions. Visit his website for more information on his upcoming appearances.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Saturday: Rolando Cruz, Illinois (Served 10.5 years, Exonerated 11/3/1995)

Tags: Rolando Cruz, Jeff Deskovic



NY Times calls for recording of interrogations

Posted: January 14, 2008 11:12 am

“What did Martin Tankleff look and sound like when he confessed in 1988 to bludgeoning and slashing his parents to death?” the New York Times asks in a Saturday editorial. “We’ll never know. There is no video or audio recording, just an incomplete narrative, handwritten by detectives, which Mr. Tankleff signed, quickly repudiated, and spent nearly two decades trying to undo.”

DNA exonerations have proven that false confessions happen. In more than 25% of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing, a defendant confessed to a crime they didn’t commit. And electronic recording of interrogations prevents false confessions. Recording also aids prosecutors and law enforcement investigations – preserving a true account of an interrogation, allowing officers to focus on questions and not note-taking, and providing a training tool for future interrogations.

Illinois, Alaska and Minnesota – along with more than 500 local jurisdictions – record interrogations in some or most investigations. A bill stalled in the New York legislature last year, and the Times calls for passage of recording legislation this year.

The Tankleff case and the recent high-profile exoneration of Jeffrey Deskovic, who spent 16 years in prison for a rape and murder he confessed to but did not commit, both argue strongly for fixing this glaring flaw in New York’s justice system.

Read the full editorial here. (New York Times, 01/13/08)
Download the Innocence Project’s 2007 report on critical reforms to the New York criminal justice system.

Read more about Marty Tankleff’s case.

Read more about Jeffrey Deskovic’s case

Does your state have a law requiring recording of interrogations? Find out in our interactive map.

Tags: Alaska, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Jeff Deskovic, False Confessions, Marty Tankleff



New York Exoneree speaks tonight in Westchester County

Posted: February 27, 2008 1:58 pm

Jeffrey Deskovic, who was wrongfully convicted at age 17 of killing a high school classmate and served 15 years before DNA proved his innocence, will speak tonight at Mercy College, in Dobbs Ferry, New York. Deskovic recently completed his undergraduate degree at Mercy, and is applying to law schools. He will discuss his case and criminal justice reforms proven to prevent future wrongful convictions. The event is free and open to the public; more information is available here.

Deskovic speaks around the country in an effort to raise awareness of wrongful convictions.  To learn more about his case and scheduling speaking events in your area, visit his website.

Tags: Jeff Deskovic



Exoneree Jeff Deskovic speaks tonight in New York

Posted: April 2, 2008 2:45 pm

Tonight in New York City, exoneree Jeff Deskovic will talk about his wrongful conviction and the 15 years he spent in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. The event, which is open to the public, will be held at 6 p.m. at Baruch College, at 55 Lexington Ave. in Manhattan (room number VC 3-215).

Deskovic was arrested when he was just 16 years old. After long hours of improper interrogation without food, Deskovic falsely confessed to the crime. He was convicted despite DNA results showing the biological evidence of someone else at the crime scene. In 2006, the Innocence Project requested that the same evidence be subjected to more sophisticated DNA testing so it could be checked against a state database of convicted offenders, and it matched the identity of the person who committed the crime. Deskovic was exonerated, and today he speaks around the country about his experiences and his work to prevent future wrongful convictions.

Read more about Deskovic’s case here.

Deskovic is one of more than 75 DNA exonerees who were wrongfully convicted arrested when they were between 14 and 22 years old. They lost the prime of their lives for something crimes they didn’t docommit.. The Innocence Project today launched a national campaign to mobilize young people in an effort to free the innocent and prevent wrongful convictions. Learn more in today’s blog post on the new campaign.

Tags: Jeff Deskovic



Exoneree Jeffrey Deskovic: "Here's what should be done"

Posted: September 17, 2008 2:45 pm

In a post yesterday on Alternet, Innocence Project client Jeffrey Deskovic wrote about his wrongful conviction, life after exoneration, and his recommendation for reforms to prevent future wrongful convictions.

My fortune turned in 2006, when The Innocence Project took my case. With the cooperation of District Attorney Janet DiFiore, further DNA testing proved who was the real perpetrator. On Nov. 2, 2006 all charges were dismissed and I was publicly acknowledged as innocent. I received some apologies but none were from those who played a role in wrongfully convicting me.

Readjusting to being free, dealing with the effects of my ordeal, learning new technology, trying to rebuild relationships with my family and experiencing financial pressure have all been hard. I was released with nothing.

Read the full post here. (, 09/16/08)
Read more about Deskovic’s case here, and visit his website here.

Tags: Jeff Deskovic



The week in review

Posted: October 3, 2008 5:50 pm

A roundup of stories we didn’t get to on the Innocence Blog this week.

Charges were dropped this week against Arthur Johnson, a Mississippi man who spent 16 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. Johnson was represented by attorneys at the Innocence Project New Orleans. More on his case next week.

Claude McCollum was released in 2007 after serving more than a year in Michigan prison for a murder he didn’t commit. He was released when evidence of his innocence began to surface, but it wasn’t until this week that he heard an apology from prosecutors. "I truly am deeply sorry," County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III said Sunday to McCollum during a talk at a local church attended by McCollum and about 30 others.

And New York exoneree Jeffrey Deskovic protested outside the taping of a new reality show featuring Jeanine Pirro, the district attorney who refused to grant DNA testing in Deskovic’s case while he was in prison. He was exonerated in 2006 when DNA proved his innocence of the 1989 murder for which he had been wrongfully convicted.

In addition to exonerating Arthur Johnson, Innocence Project New Orleans issued a report detailing cases in which New Orleans prosecutors failed to disclose critical evidence to defense attorneys, and calling on candidates for the office to improve evidence sharing practices in the future.

And an editorial in the Tuscaloosa News praised the Alabama Supreme Court for denying the state Attorney General’s request to set a new execution date for Tommy Arthur.

Tags: Jeff Deskovic



Half a Life Behind Bars, Two Years Free

Posted: October 31, 2008 5:20 pm

Jeff Deskovic was exonerated on November 2, 2006, after spending half of his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Sunday marks the second anniversary of his exoneration.

On November 15, 1989, a teenage girl was out taking pictures for her photography class in Westchester County, New York. Two days later her body was found by police dogs, and she appeared to have been raped. Sixteen-year-old Deskovic first became a suspect because he was late to school the day of her disappearance. Although he was a classmate of the victim and they shared two classes together, police grew more suspicious when Deskovic began his "own investigation" of the case.

Detectives asked him to submit to a polygraph test, and they brought the young Deskovic to a private polygraph business run by local officers. During the test, no lawyers or parents were involved, and he was only given coffee. He spent over six hours inside the small room as detectives continued to interrogate him, claiming he failed the tests. By the end of the interrogation, Deskovic was crying and curled up under the table. After six hours of questioning and three polygraph tests, Deskovic allegedly confessed to committing the crime.

At the trial the police misconduct was ignored, and details were distorted by the state. While DNA tests on the rape kit excluded Deskovic as a source of the semen, the state argued the victim had consensual sex before the crime and that Deskovic murdered her in a jealous rage. The jury was also told that he had confessed to the crime. Deskovic was convicted and sentenced to 15 years to life.

In January 2006, the Innocence Project took on Deskovic’s case, and sought to retest the biological evidence using newer technology, making it eligible for the state DNA database. The results matched a man already in prison for another murder.

Deskovic was 33 when he was released. Upon his release he spoke of the bond he felt with the victim, "We had a commonality. We were both victims of the man who killed her — in different ways, obviously. She is more of a victim than I am, but I am still a victim."

Since his exoneration, Deskovic has fought to ensure that others do not become victims of wrongful convictions. He speaks to high schools, churches, and colleges, and fights for legislative reform to prevent other wrongful convictions. Visit his personal website here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Steven Linscott, Illinois, (Served 3 years, Exonerated 7/15/92)

Tags: New York, Jeff Deskovic



Hearing Tomorrow in NYC to Address Causes of Wrongful Conviction

Posted: February 12, 2009 2:50 pm

Three men who served a combined 58 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit will testify tomorrow before a New York State Bar Association task force investigating the causes of wrongful convictions in the state. The group released a report last week that found identification procedures and government practices to be the two leading causes of wrongful convictions.

Among those testifying will be Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, the co-founders of the Innocence Project, and three exonerated Innocence Project clients: Scott Fappiano, Jeffrey Deskovic and Alan Newton.

Another hearing is scheduled for February 24 in Albany.

Read more about tomorrow’s event here.

Download the Bar Association report here

Tags: Jeff Deskovic, Scott Fappiano, Alan Newton



Friday Roundup: Cases from Florida to Ontario

Posted: March 13, 2009 5:39 pm

We wrote this week about the exoneration of Joseph Fears, Jr., in Ohio. Fears, a client of the Ohio Innocence Project, was reunited with his family after a quarter-century and became the 234th person exonerated by DNA testing in the United States. Meanwhile, other wrongful convictions and arrests were being overturned from Florida to Ontario.

In Tampa, bank robbery charges were dropped against Kenneth Robinson after he spent four months in jail awaiting a trial for a crime spree that DNA now proves he wasn’t involved in. Defense attorneys said his case shows how easily the wrong person can be accused – and the danger of wrongful conviction, especially since experts say only 5-10% of criminal cases involve DNA evidence.

Tammy Marquardt was freed from a Canadian prison after serving 14 years for the murder of her child, a crime she has always said she didn’t commit. Marquardt was convicted based in part on the testimony of Dr. Charles Smith, a pediatric forensic pathologist whose testimony contributed to several convictions that were later overturned based on evidence of innocence.

A federal court threw out the Alabama murder conviction of Earl Jerome McGahee because of an “astonishing pattern” of discrimination that led to an all-white jury at the 1986 trial of McGahee, who is black. Of 66 possible jurors, 24 were black. All 24 were eliminated during jury selection.

Lawyers are seeking a new trial for Davontae Sanford, a developmentally disabled 16-year-old boy who lawyers say was coerced into confessing to four murders he didn’t commit. Another man has taken responsibility for the murders.

Harris County (Texas) District Attorney Pat Lykos released a report this week on the wrongful conviction and exoneration of Ricardo Rachell, which she said was caused by a “cascading, system-wide breakdown.”
Exonerated individuals continued speaking around the country this week in support of reforms to prevent the injustice they suffered from happening to anyone else.
New York exoneree Jeffrey Deskovic spoke to students at Fulton-Montgomery Community College about his case and his advocacy efforts. Deskovic will speak at a free public event in Brooklyn, New York, on March 23.

Two people exonerated from Illinois death row spoke at a rally yesterday gainst capital punishment inside the state capitol. The rally marked 10 years since the last time a person was executed in Illinois. Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions in Illinois in 2000.

Florida exoneree William Dillon, who served 26 years for a murder he didn’t commit, gave his first public speech since being released and exonerated in November.

Tags: Jeff Deskovic, William Dillon



NY District Attorney on the Need to Prevent Wrongful Convictions

Posted: June 4, 2009 6:00 pm

A District attorney should have two goals, according to Janet DiFiore – keping the public safe and ensuring that fair and impartial justice is practiced in our courts. DiFiore, the District Attorney of New York’s Westchester County, will serve as a co-chair on the state’s new Justice Task Force, which is charged with examining the causes of wrongful conviction and recommending reforms to prevent injustice. She said yesterday in a statement that she looks forward to her role in working to prevent injustice.

As District Attorney of Westchester County, I have readily accepted my obligation to promote fairness and justice at every level of our system by ensuring that in every case we prosecute, we not only strive to convict the guilty, but also make certain that no one is wrongfully convicted for a crime that he or she did not commit.

In spite of all our efforts, our criminal justice system is not infallible.
Read yesterday’s statement from DiFiore here.
In 2007, DiFiore ordered a thorough study of the wrongful conviction of Jeffrey Deskovic, who was exonerated in 2006 after serving more than 15 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. The report found that systemic flaws were behind Deskovic’s wrongful conviction, as they are in many cases. Read more and download the report here.

And New York lawmakers are considering a package of reforms right now to address help free the innocent statewide and improve laws that help prevent wrongful convictions. To learn more and email state leaders in support of these proposed measures, click here.

Tags: New York, Jeff Deskovic, Reforms



Three Years Free, After Half His Life in Prison

Posted: November 5, 2009 5:35 pm

This week marks the third anniversary of Jeffrey Deskovic's exoneration in New York. Deskovic was just 16 years old when he was arrested for the murder of a classmate, a crime DNA now proves he didn't commit. He served 16 years before advanced DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project helped him finally walk free.

In November, 1989, a 15-year-old girl in Deskovic's high school class went out after school to take pictures for a photography class. She never returned home. When her body was discovered days later, she appeared to have been raped, beaten, and strangled.  Her clothes and cassette player were collected.

Deskovic, then 16 years old, became a suspect because he was late to school the day after the victim disappeared. Police also believed he seemed overly distraught at the victim's death.  

After six hours of intense questioning and three polygraph tests, Deskovic allegedly confessed to committing the crime. According to trial testimony, one officer had been brought to the interrogation specifically to "get the confession."  Deskovic was held in a small room with no lawyer or parent present. He was provided with coffee throughout the day but no food. In between polygraph sessions, detectives interrogated Deskovic.  

The first DNA exoneration in the country had occurred in 1989 and DNA testing had just begun to play a role in criminal cases in the U.S.  Tests were conducted before Deskovic's trial on semen recovered from the victim's body during her autopsy. The results showed that he was not the source of semen collected from the victim's body. Prosecutors improperly explained that the semen may have come from a consensual sex partner, rather than her murderer - even though they never investigated whether she had a consensual sex partner. The trial went forward on the strength of Deskovic's alleged confession.   

In January 2006, the Innocence Project took Deskovic's case. Because the DNA tests that excluded Deskovic before trial were conducted using older technology, the results couldn't be entered in the New York State DNA databank of convicted felons. The Innocence Project sought to retest the evidence using technology that would allow the DNA profile to be compared against the database, and Westchester Country District Attorney Janet DiFiore agreed to the testing.

In September 2006, the DNA profile showed that the semen came from a man named Steven Cunningham, who was in prison for another murder conviction. Deskovic was freed on September 22, and on November 2, he was fully cleared. Cunningham has since confessed to the crime.

In 2007, the New York Times profiled Deskovic, who spoke about the difficulties of building a new life after exoneration. Today, he speaks frequently about criminal justice reforms and writes a column for the Westchester Guardian newspaper. Read his columns and contact him through his website.

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Rolando Cruz, Illinois (Served 10.5 Years, Exonerated 11/03/95)

David A. Gray, Illinois, (Served 20 years, Exonerated 11/06/99)

Bernard Webster, Maryland, (Served 20 years, Exonerated 11/07/02) 

Tags: Jeff Deskovic



New York Exoneree Starts Foundation to Help Wrongfully Convicted

Posted: March 14, 2012 11:30 am

Tags: New York, Jeff Deskovic



The Most Captive Audience

Posted: February 19, 2013 5:50 pm

Tags: New York, Jeff Deskovic



An Exoneree Experiences Exonerating a Wrongfully Imprisoned Man

Posted: June 26, 2013 12:30 pm

Tags: New York, Jeff Deskovic



No Apology, But $5.4 Million from City of Peekskill to Exoneree

Posted: September 5, 2013 4:00 pm

Tags: New York, Jeff Deskovic



A Place of Their Own

Posted: September 24, 2013 3:00 pm

Tags: Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Texas, New York, Jeff Deskovic, Rickie Johnson, Michael Saunders, Damon Thibodeaux, David Wiggins, Exoneree Compensation



New York Exoneree to Speak at Manhattanville College

Posted: October 9, 2013 3:00 pm

Tags: New York, Jeff Deskovic



Delays in Compensation Hurt Exonerees, Benefit the State

Posted: September 23, 2014 3:05 pm

Tags: New York, Jeff Deskovic



Exoneree Jeff Deskovic on Rash of Recent Exonerations

Posted: December 11, 2014 3:00 pm

Tags: Jeff Deskovic, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics, Government Misconduct