I am Jeffrey Deskovic. I started a non-profit to fight wrongful convictions after I was exonerated subsequent to serving 16 years in prison for a rape and murder I did not commit, Ask Me Anything.
In 1990, at the age of 17, I was convicted of the rape and murder of my high school classmate, Angela Correa. I was sentenced to 15 to life based on a coerced false confession, prosecutorial misconduct, fraud by the medical examiner, and an inept public defender, despite the fact that DNA found on the victim did not match my own. I lost all 7 of my appeals and was turned down for parole.
After spending 16 years in prison, I was finally proven innocent by DNA testing, which not only exonerated me but also identified the actual perpetrator. After receiving financial compensation from the State of New York, I committed $1.5 million to start The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice.
The Foundation works on a pro bono basis to free the wrongfully convicted.
The Foundation raises public awareness about the systemic deficiencies leading to wrongful convictions through speaking engagements, media and radio broadcasts, grassroots education initiatives, and lobbying on both federal and state levels for legislative reform.
Finally, the Foundation provides numerous resources including temporary housing for exonerees to assist them in putting their lives back together.
Visit our Rally.org page to learn more about the Foundation and get involved with the cause: https://rally.org/deskovic
Learn more about my story:
Follow the Foundation on our social media sites:
My Proof: http://imgur.com/kPATAjY
I would tell them that they cost me 16 years of my life, which I will never get back. That it not only affected me but also my friends and family. Additionally, your misconduct caused another woman to lose her life 3 and a half years later because the actual killer was out free while I was doing time for his crime-- he killed again!
My father is currently in prison and was handed a large amount of time over a very small & simple crime, more than likely based on unfair trial & past history with the prosecuting judge. What advice can you give to someone without a lawyer or monetary means to afford a lawyer? Any legal advice for pleading your case as an inmate would be helpful.
Its important that he go to the law library and learn as much about the law pertaining to the case as possible. Secondly, he need to make concerted efforts via writing letters seeking pro bono assistance from a lawyer. He should target large law firms which often have a pro bono section. His letter to them needs to be short, to the point, and seeking to grab their attention, selling them on the merits of his case. Its important to remain focused on his case rather than to get caught up in prison politics.
If you could change one thing about the American Justice System, what would it be? What do you think would make the best/biggest change?
Removal of prosecutorial immunity. Although there are many causes of wrongful conviction, a common thread is that they are often paired with prosecutorial misconduct. The way the system is set up now, the exonerated are unable to sue the prosecutors, even for intentional misconduct.
Do you think there was prosecutorial misconduct in your case?
Absolutely. The prosecutor should have dropped the case against me once the DNA test results did not match me. Instead, he solicited fraud on the part of the medical examiner in order to overcome the DNA evidence.
I worked relentlessly to help a convicted murderer, who I - at one time - believed to be innocent of his crime. It turns out that he was the sociopath the newspapers and media made him out to be & he used me for money and fundraising. Do you believe that due to the increase in wrongful convictions & media attention they have gotten (i.e - the WM3) that some prisoners now take advantage of this idea and claim to be 'wrongfully imprisoned' when in fact they aren't?
I don't think that prisoners making false claims of innocence is anything new. Each case must be evaluated on its own merit. The evidence against a prisoner should be evaluated in light of the known red flags around the causes of wrongful conviction. At one time, The Innocence Project reported that in about 50% of the cases in which they succeeded in obtaining DNA test results, it turned out that the prisoner was guilty. Which is another way of saying that about 50% of the people then, were actually innocent.
After your exoneration, were you treated like a criminal by anyone?
After that much time in prison, did you feel like a criminal, even though you KNEW you were not? :(
Everybody accepted my innocence because the actual perpatrator was arrested and convicted, however I still face a stigma of having been in prison, albiet wrongfully. Is it "safe" to be alone with me someplace? How much of the ways of prison rubbed off on me? Also, my background hinders me when it comes to dating women: after all, who wants to go out with a guy who spent 16 years in prison! :(
No. I never felt like a criminal, I was always painfully aware that I didn't belong in there. Many prisoners that I knew had worked themselves into a mental place in which they recognized that they did this to themsevles. I could never get there, since I was innocent
Fuck. Do you actually feel any different from being there for so long, or was it just more of an experience akin to being stranded in a foreign environment with no hope of rescue? ...or did you actually maintain hope for that long?
Man, people are judging assholes. Prison cannot magically turn you into a monster if you weren't going to become one anyway.
Yes. My life was definately unalterably altered. I missed births, deaths, high school prom, finishing my education at a normal age, being set up in a career and having a family. Not to mention the various psycological afflictions that I've had to work through with experts, with the end result of things improving for me, though not being eliminated.
I maintained my hope. In my mind, I wasn't serving 16 years but instead just a year or two until the next appeal was decided, where I was sure that justice would take place and I would win. When I would lose, I would simply refocus completely on the next appeal. Consequently, my last 5 years, when I didn't have any appeals left, was the hardest time.
Well, the good (?) news is that many people your (our) age also are in the same place as yourself, without having a wrongful conviction excuse.
Since it was "15 to life" - did you then have hope of release, or were you petrified of being released as a convicted murderer onto the streets?
Thats true, but that was not the life trajectory I was one. I had plans to go to college, and law school. Since I got out of prison, though, I completed my bachelors degree and a masters and soon I will reapply to law school (having previously not been accepted in 2007).
There is a difference if someone by choice had not completed their education or career, its something different to have that taken from you.
Understood entirely and congrats on the degrees! Keep on kicking ass. :)
Why do they generally and specifically for you convict the wrong person?
There are multiple reasons. There was alot of public pressure to "solve the case" on the level of the police and prosecution. Peekskill, NY, where the crime happened, had not had a murder for 20 years, so the city itself came to a halt. The public demanded that the crime be solved which made the police not focus on actually seeking justice, but a conviction.
Conviction rates for prosecutors are often a factor in getting promotions and prestige in which one is held.
Once the wrongful conviction was obtained, the office, as a whole, didn't want to admit the error. I had a negative DNA test and the prosecutors were all lawyers- of course that the test would show that I was innocent.
What did you do with your time in prison? If you haven't already you may want to reach out to comedian Doug Stanhope, he's pretty passionate about this stuff. And he has a great podcast, who knows he may have you on to tell your story.
I love telling my story through all kinds of mediums. However, the problem often becomes having an access point to the show. If you have a way of contacting him message me though the Foundation's Facebook Page. In general though, many people have great ideas about which TV and radio shows I should appear on, without having an access point. There are often 1000's of people trying to get booked on those shows and I don't have a way to cut through the beaurocracy that is between the host and his or her guests. Getting booked to appear on shows is not as easy as the general public might think. Advocacy work is hard!
How did the victim's family treat you after your conviction and after you were released?
The victims family never said anything to me or about me after I was convicted. After I was exonerated, the victims mother and I had a tearful embrace. She felt really bad for me, fully accepting my innocence. At her invitation, I spent several weekends visiting them in their house.
Something to lighten the mood..
What was the biggest difference you noticed in the world after finally getting back your freedom? (1990-2006)
Technology. Followed closely by culture and style. For example, nowadays getting dressed up for nightlife or to go on a date would entail putting on jeans and a collared shirt. Previously, one would be considered to be underdressed if they put on jeans!
Another example involved socks. Currently, when one wears shorts its in style to wear ankle length or less socks whereas in the 80's tube socks were in fashion.
Many dance current dance styles not only did not exist but also have a rather overt sexuality about them.
In terms of technology, the internet, cell phone, GPS and debit card did not exist. Similarly, at the time I went to prison, video game system typically had two buttons- A and B along with start, select and a D-pad. Most game systems now have between 6 to 10 different buttons. It took me a long time just to be able to learn how to play Call of Duty MW3- over a year!
what got you through 16years? did you ever feel throughout the years you would come out of prision with people believing you did wrong? what was your motivation to keep going?
The following factors helped me through my 16 years: (1) belief in God (2) focusing on the next appeal (3) reading non fiction books (4) reading inspirational stories of other people being proven innocent (5) going to the law library and learning about the law gave me solace (6) building and studying a chess library (7) sports- when i would play basketball, chess and ping pong I would engage in an elaborate delusion that I was not in prison and in fact was a professional player, as was everyone else. But it wasn't on the level of the childs fantasy on the sand lot, it was more on the level of a defense mechanism. (8) learning as much as i could in the vocational shops they had there (9) putting nature scenes on my wall and traveling there mentally (10) listening and watching professional sports and listening to the radio- I percieved it as a line to the outside world.
did you ever feel throughout the years you would come out of prision with people believing you did wrong?
what was your motivation to keep going?
my motivation was to prove my innocence and regain my freedom!! otherwise, I very likely would have died in prison!!!! for a crime i didn't commit
is there an insurance fund to compensate wrongly-convicted persons?
No. I had to sue the entities responsible for wrongfully convicting me. Some of those entities had insurence to cover them in such a situation, but since insurance companies don't like to pay out, in many ways the insurance companies were my opponents just as much as the municipalities.
I have an upcoming civil rights trial on June 30th in which I am suing Putnam County and their polygraphist Daniel Stephens, who was the "butfor guy", in White Plains federal Court in front of Judge Karas. I encourage people to come out and attend the trial if they can, which is expected to last about two weeks.
Was there something about prison life that surprised you, based on its deptiction in movies and TV. How scared were you to be going to prison? I'm glad you've been vindicated and are able to use your experiences to help other people. God Bless!!
I was very scared. I was 17 years old and weighed about 150 pounds. I was sent to a men's maximum security prison, which contained many violent, fully developed men
Was the prison you were held in corrupt at all?
I spend 13 and a half years aggregate in El Mira correctional facility . A year and a half in Shawangunk, 3 weeks in Eastern and 28 days in Sing Sing. El Mira was definately corrupt, but probably not in the sense that youre asking me. It was more corrupt in the sense that they were verbally abusive to prisoners and frequently denied them everyday curdosy, professionalism and Constitutional Rights. It was not that they were taking bribes left and right for drugs and contraband into the prison. I was not in Sing Sing long enough to make very many personal observations but going on historical, documented events, at one time there was a prostitution ring in Sing Sing and guared were very bribable.
El Mira was also corrupt in the sense that when the guards would write misbehavior reports, alleging that a prisoner broke a rule, there would often fabricate part of the report. Sometimes, when violence was occuring, the guards were either the direct or indirect cause of it or they would walk in the opposite direction so as to be able to avoid breaking things up and having to file paperwork afterwards. It was also clear to me that the "hearing officer" presiding over the kangaroo court in which the misbehavior reports were considered had already predetermied, before the preceeding began, that they were going to find the inmate guilty. It was frivolous to complain to supervising officers and the prison administration about employee misconduct because they were only interested in backing up their co worker rather than truly supervising and maintaining order.
Having spent so long in a structured institution, with fixed times for sleeping, eating and such, how did you adjust to having your liberty? Was it challenging at first?
Congratulations on gaining your freedom and thank you for bringing your story to our attention.
Yes, for all the reasons you mentioned in your question. It is still challenging after having lived like that for so long
Do you accept new cases? How about ones from out of state? I reviewed a case like yours years ago. I am still 100% sure the man is innocent. But his appeals failed, his defense attorney refused to acknowledge his failures (attorney was actually in prison for drug and DUI convictions), and much more. I could do nothing. I worked for one of the reviewing judges. My belief couldn't overcome the procedural infirmities of the case. The man will most likely die in prison. He's been incarcerated for +_25 years already. If you are ever looking to help someone, his name is Kevin Richard Herrick, unjustly convicted in Florida. DOB 10/1966. He is most certainly innocent. I'm amazed at your decision to use your money to help others. You're a good man to move forward after such trauma and use your pain to help others avoid it. I wish you a long happy life.
We are accepting cases but unfortunately we only have the resources to handle cases in NY, NJ and CT when it comes to non DNA cases, though we are able to take on DNA cases nationally. I'm sorry I don't a better answer than that. Keep trying to find pro bono assistance for him. Often lay people advocates serve as the crucial bridge between the wrongfully convicted and the necessary legal services which ultimately exonerate them. I wish him the best of luck.
in prision im guessing you have alot of spare time, you hear stories of people in jail finding talents, eg drawing or carving. did you find a talent or was your focus on proving your innocence?
My focus was primarily on proving my innocence but I did significantly broaden my mind by reading non fiction books and at one point I was extremely good at playing chess and basketball
How was prison life like? Is it similar to how the media portrayes it and were you treaded differently since you were convicted of murder?
Prison was like a non stop obstacle course, featuring the guards, the prisoners and the staff, all as obstacles to the ultimate goal, prove my innocense and regain my freedom. Respect and human dignity are often lacking in prison, there was alot of violence, both involving weapons and not, along with plenty of gang activity. It is not similar to how the media portrays it. The media often portrays a prevelance of rapes. I didn't find that to be true. On the other hand, there was much more violence, as well as various levels of abuse by the guards and civilians.
There is no stigma attached to people who convicted of murder, rather there is a stigma for being incarcerated for a sex offence. There is a vigilante mentality in prison towards people who have been convicted of sex offences. There was always a fear that the crimes for which i was convicted of would come out.
Some long-term prisoners find it hard to assimilate back into normal life, and as crazy as this might sound, is there anything at all about prison that you miss, even a little?
Yes. It was easy to find activity partners to play sports, watch sports, play cards and do other activities with, as well as have conversations with. Out here, I find it difficult to find people to do such activities with. Most people out here do not put a healthy amount of time aside for socializing. In many instances, they seem to me to simply be living to work rather that trying to maintain some balance between work and play.
How did they coerce a false confession out of you?
They drove me from Peekskill, which is in Westchester County, to Brewster, which is in Putnam County; that meant that I could not leave there on my own; I was dependent on the police. They put me in a small room, I did not have an attorney present, my parents did not know where I was, and I was not given anything to eat the entire time I was there. I was given many cups of coffee, and attached to a polygraph machine. The polygrapher, who was a Putnam County Sheriff's Investigator, was pretending to be a civilian; meanwhile, there were 3 other police officers present. The played good cop-bad cop. The polygraphist used many scare tactics; he invaded my personal space, raised his voice at me, and kept asking me the same questions repeatedly. As each hour passed, my fear increased. Towards the end of the interrogation the polygraphist said "What do you mean you didn't do it, you just told me through the test that you did". It was at that moment that the cop who was pretending to be my friend entered the room, and he told me that the other officers were going to harm me but that he had been holding them off, but couldn't do so indefinitely, that I had to help myself. Then he added that if I did as he wanted, not only would they stop what they were doing, but that I could go home afterwards, being young, naïve, frightened, 16 years old, not thinking about the long term implications, but instead concerned with my own safety, I took the out which he offered and I made up a story based upon the information which they had given me in the course of the interrogation. By the end of the interrogation, I was on the floor in a fetal position, crying uncontrollably.
Most people believe that an innocent person would never confess, but it has been the cause of wrongful convictions in 25% of the 316 DNA proven wrongful convictions, with particularly vulnerable populations identified by false confession experts as juveniles and those with mental health issues.
What was the day in the life of a prisoner like?
What was the craziest thing you've witnessed while inside?
I'm glad you're out and living your life!
We would wake up around 630AM because a bell would ring. We would have to be dressed in 10 minutes for when the guards came around to do the count. We would go to breakfast at 730, go to our morning assigment after that until 11AM, go back to our cells for an hour and come out at 12PM for lunch. Then we would go to our afternoon assignemnt until 3:15. After that, it would depend on which day it was. if it was a day in which there was no night recreation, we would go to recreation for what was supposed to be an hour but was often a half hour or less. Then we would go to dinner at 5PM and be stuck in our cells until the morning, unless one had special permission to leave. If it was a night where we did have night rec, we would go to the cell at 3:15, remain there until 5 for dinner, go back to the cell until rec began at 7PM
Somebody got their lung punctured by a prison-made knife, refered to as a shank in prison lingo. Had the guards not acted unusually quickn as they did, the victim would have lost his life. At other times, I saw many prisoners have their necks and faces cut with razor blades. Other times I would see people getting ganged up by 2 or 3 or 4 other inmates. I am extremely fortunate to have survived my experience, considering the age I was when I went in (17) and the crime for which I was incarcerated.
Thanks for your reply.
To follow up…
Would the people who were attacked be so because of retaliation of some kind? Or would there be no rhyme or reason to it? I always heard that if you mind your business and not cause trouble you'd be ok… Is that true (for the most part)?
Violence usually did not occur for no reason, but often the "reasons" were silly, petty and/or involved imagined slights. If you mind your own business and observe certain unofficial prison rules of survival you can avoid about 90% of the voilence.
Hi Jeff, first of all I want to say I'm glad you got justice finally, and I wish you nothing but the best in your efforts to do good. I have two questions,
1.) Were tobacco products available to be purchased in the commissary? If not, did you observe any black markets that smuggled cigarettes (or drugs for that manner as well) into the prison?
2.) How rigid were the race lines? Is it true that if when you show up and don't fall in with your race you're basically screwed? If not, we're there people who didn't join any racial group and kind of flew solo? And lastly, we're there any (in lack of a better term) 'defectors' that fell in with other races and were actually accepted by them?
1) Cigarettes and stamps was money in prison and both could be used to purchase black market items. I didn't personally witness drug transactions, however I knew people who were obtaining and smoking marijuana, which was the most prevelantly used drug.
2) No, not in New York prisons. I have heard, however, from prisoners who perviously were locked up in other states that other states were more racially segregated. As it turned out, I socialized more with minorities than I did with others of my race (white). This was consistant with the ethnic makeup of the friends I had prior to going into prison
How does your organization select someone to support?
We have a questionnaire which applicants fill out, which lets us get our head around their case. We cross-reference the questionnaire with legal documents pertaining to their case, particularly legal briefs from both sides from the direct appeal, police reports, and the transcript of expert testimony. After authenticating the information, we begin the next level of review, which consists of asking ourselves two questions: 1) does the applicant have at least a colorable claim of innocence, based upon something objective, and 2) is there a direction to go in which could theoretically lead to uncovering previously unknown evidence of innocence sufficient for us to go into court and argue that they are innocent
What was it like going to prison before even being able to go to college?
It was much more dangerous. Being in prison during my formative years definately stunted my growth emotionally and psychologocially, as opposed to if I went to prison wrongfully, at say, 25 or older.
First of all, I read your story and I am sorry the pain you went through. You are such a strong person. I will continue to keep you in my prayers. My question is: What were your first words when you got out of prison?
My first works when i got out of prison, and this is documented in a caption underneath a photo that the Journal News printed on the cover of their paper, was "Is this really happening?". It was a very surreal experience which happened very suddenly. I wasnt quite sure if I was still in prison and simply dreaming. Please do keep me in your prayers, both as I continue to try to put my life back together, work on a personal life, as well as make my Foundation, The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice so that it can continue its work of trying to free other people who are in the same position that I once was, along with trying to prevent it to happen in the first place
I'm so mad I missed this. I was there for the press conference when you walked out of the White Plains courthouse. It was one of if not THE most amazing things I've ever witnessed. You were beaming, and proud and victorious. It was an honor to witness. I really loved when you asked every member of the press to introduce themselves. You were really eager to meet everyone. You're a special guy and had a profound effect on me. Thanks. And for a question...What was the first thing you ate when you got out?
Thank you very much for your kind words, and for taking me down memory lane. :)
If you have a Facebook or other social media page, would you mind emailing me a link to it: I'm curious if I would remember you if I saw a photo.
The first thing I ate was mussels with Fra Diavolo Sauce, with a side of baked ziti. For dessert, I had a manually order neopoliton ice cream (Graziella's only had chocolate and vanilla ice cream combination, while they sold strawberry separate. I asked them to give me the combo and add the strawberry). There is a photo of me bringing the spoon to my mouth to eat the ice cream in the NY Times!
After your 16 years in prison and your exoneration, did you attempt to find a job? Would employers hire you knowing you had been in prison (albeit wrongfully)?
Yes, I attempted to get jobs. But I was always passed over for gainful employment, not because of being in prison but because I didn't have the same experience that other applicants had. The decision makers always knew about my background- after all, I had been in the news a lot, plus I had to explain the gap in my resume/where I had been for the past 16 years. I always carried a copy of a newspaper with me, to show that I had been exonerated.
I feel that he not only victimized the victim and my case as well as the women whom he killed 3 1/2 years later, which of course dramatically impacted both of their families, but he also victimized me in that he remained silent while I did time for his crime. Here is a link to him confessing to a reporter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsW2EAiivwA
To make it clear- I'm was caucasian kid from Westchester County, NY. Economics was a factor only in that I didn't have the money to hire a private lawyer, investigator or experts. I had to use a public defender who not only failed miserably but provided me with ineffective representation. He never presented my alabi witness in court, never explained to the jury the significance of the DNA not matching me, never cross examined the medical examiner (whose fraud was crucial), very rarely spent any time meeting with me, refused to allow me to testify and never rebutted several of the prosecutions erroneous theories
What's your opinion on restitution?
I studied this issue en route to aquiring a Masteres Degree in Criminal Justice from John Jay. I am in favor of restitution when it comes to property crimes as well as crimes which involve a victim having out of pocket expenses for medical and psychological treatment.
If you were in a private room with the people who ruined your life, what would you say to them?
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