The Buffalo News urges New York to Compensate for Wrongful Conviction

DeJac Peters, who was convicted of second degree murder in the strangulation death of her 13-year-old daughter in 1993, is listed in the National Registry of Exonerations compiled by Northwestern Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions and Michigan Law. Maurice Possley’s Registry report provides details of the case that resulted in Peters’ 14 years of wrongful imprisonment and her ongoing pursuit of state compensation in New York.

Peters was convicted on the testimony of a friend who was facing a potential life sentence in another crime and Dennis Donahue, a man she had dated, who was an early suspect in the case. When, in late 2007, testing revealed male DNA in a blood smear, in bedding, and from the victim’s body, Erie County Senior Judge Michael L. D’Amico vacated Peters’ conviction. She was released from prison pending a new trial. The charges were dismissed in early 2008 when a new autopsy added cocaine overdose as the cause of death, not strangulation.

The Buffalo News editorializes here that while Peters was “no mother of the year,” the State of New York should stop “dragging its feet” on compensating her for her wrongful conviction and imprisonment. Peters, exonerated four years ago and still awaiting compensation, has sued the state for damages.

The Innocence Project, which offers a convenient resource for information on state compensation provisions here, summarizes New York’s statute as follows:

“If the wrongfully convicted person ‘did not by his own conduct cause or bring about his conviction’ and files a claim within two years of his pardon of innocence, he shall receive ‘damages in such sum of money as the court determines will fairly and reasonably compensate him.’ Effective: 1984; Amended: 2007”

The New York Compensation Statute is available here.

Donn Esmonde reported in his Buffalo News commentary here that the State of New York, instead of negotiating a settlement with Peters, announced that it would take the case to court. Presumably, the state is trying to prove that Peters contributed to the murder of her daughter. Or, as Esmonde suggests, the state may be using the threat of trial as a negotiating tactic in an effort to decrease settlement costs. Meanwhile, Peters—who also suffered the agony of having her infant twins taken from her and raised by others—gets by, living modestly with her husband and family.

New York is one of 27 states that has a provision for compensation, but as this case illustrates, exonerees must often overcome difficult hurdles to receive payment, a struggle that unfairly adds insult and hardship to an unspeakable injury.

A telling footnote in this case: In May 2008, Dennis Donohue, the early boyfriend suspect in this case, was convicted of the 1993 strangulation murder of his former girlfriend Joan Giambra.

One response to “The Buffalo News urges New York to Compensate for Wrongful Conviction

  1. and new york , besides north carolina, is the only other state where adolescents are prosecuted as full-fledged adults, labeling them criminals for the rest of their life. as someone who saw from first hand the injustices that normally occur in communities where you have a substantial number of black and latino males , I can attest to the shabby police work that unjustly convicted me of crimes I didn’t commit. I was framed twice by overzeleous
    NYPD detectives from the 110 precinct back in 1991. and in 2010 they tried to pull a fast one again to no avail, as they were shocked to learn I had a brother in law enforcement, who came to my defense to clear my good name.

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