Two men who were exonerated of raping and murdering a 16-year-old Nassau County girl in 1984 were awarded $18 million each by a federal jury in April 2014. After a four-week trial in the U.S. District Court in Central Islip, New York, jurors determined that John Restivo and Dennis Halstead, who each served 18 years in prison for the crime, should receive $18 million each after finding that a Nassau County detective planted evidence and withheld key evidence in the case. Louis M. Freeman, an attorney for Nassau County, stated that he plans to appeal the jury’s verdict to the federal Court of Appeals in New York.
In 1984, 16-year-old Theresa Fusco vanished while walking home from her part-time job at a roller skating rink in Lynbrook. Her nude body was found covered with leaves in a wooded area near the skating rink weeks later. Investigators determined that the teenager was raped and strangled to death. At the time, two other teenage girls had gone missing. Three men, John Restivo, Dennis Halstead, and John Kogut were charged and eventually convicted of raping and murdering Fusco, and each spent 18 years in prison for the crime. However, in 2003, Nassau County dismissed the charges against the three men after DNA evidence, which was not available in the 1980s, proved that the men did not commit the brutal rape and murder. Investigators still have not caught the person who actually committed the crime. While John Kogut was retried and acquitted, he lost his wrongful conviction case, which is currently in the process of being appealed.
During the course of reviewing the case, attorneys for Restivo and Halstead discovered that Joseph Volpe, the lead Nassau County detective assigned to investigate the case, planted hairs in Restivo’s van. In addition, the defense attorneys stated that Volpe withheld key pieces of evidence from prosecutors that would have shown the men were innocent. While Nassau County lawyers disputed the claims, the defense attorneys stated that Volpe, who died at the age of 63, became desperate to solve the high-profile case after a lead he was looking into proved to be a dead end. As a result, the defense attorneys contend that Volpe planted and withheld evidence in order to get a conviction in the case. The jury agreed with the findings in their verdict.
Commenting on the jury’s decision, the lead defense attorney for the two wrongfully convicted men stated, “Today, a jury finally acknowledged what the county never has–that its own officers’ intentional misconduct robbed these innocent men of eighteen years of their lives.”
Around the same time the jury’s verdict was reached, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced in April 2014 that he had appointed Gail Heatherly to lead his office’s Conviction Review Bureau, which was established in 2012. Moreover, Schneiderman announced the formation of a new Conviction Review Committee to assist in coordinating the Bureau’s efforts with other offices and agencies.
Commenting on the new changes, Schneiderman stated, “Those who are wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit deserve to have an advocate who will fight for justice, both for the wrongfully accused and for the victims of the original crime.”
Website Resource: 2 Men Get $18 Million Each in Wrongful Conviction Case, NY Times, Joseph Berger, April 18, 2014
Federal jury awards $18 million each to 2 men exonerated in ’84 killing, rape, NY Newsday, Robert E. Kessler, April 17, 2014