Jeffrey Deskovic, speaking about his 16 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit
The nomination by President Obama of 2nd Circuit Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court is more than alarming to an innocent man who was convicted of murder and spent 16 years in prison before being cleared and released.
Jeff Deskovic, whose pursuit of freedom has been chronicled by the New York Times and others, told WND that the last six of those years are directly attributable to decisions endorsed by Sotomayor.
“I’m very alarmed,” he said. “The rest of my life, as a result of my ordeal, is dedicated to preventing this from happening to other people.”
Sotomayor in her 2nd Circuit position repeatedly put “procedure over innocence” and rejected appeals that could have provided Deskovic with his freedom much earlier than it actually happened, he told WND.
He blames the prosecutors and others in his original case for getting his conviction and sentence, but he blames Sotomayor – and the other judge on the 2nd Circuit panel – for the last six years he remained in prison.
The other judge, he told WND, is equally culpable, but is not now being nominated for the highest court in the land.
The background of the case is all over the public record. He was arrested and accused of assaulting and killing 15-year-old Angela Correa in 1989 and went on trial in 1990 when he was 17.
You can hear his story in his own words on WND’s Media page, and also see a video of his story:
The fact that DNA on the victim didn’t match him was explained away by prosecutors who claimed the victim could have had consensual sex before she was killed.
His sentence was 15 years to life in prison. Eventually he ran out of state court appeals procedures, and then was given until April 24, 1997, to demand habeas corpus.
According to reports, his lawyer asked a court clerk about the deadline and was told it had to be mailed by that date. Wrong. The court rules required delivery by that date.
When the paperwork arrived late it was dismissed. Eventually Sotomayor and other appellate judge found that such a mistake didn’t “rise to the level of an extraordinary circumstance” and dismissed it.
“The district court correctly dismissed Deskovic’s petition as untimely,” the appeals court decision from Sotomayor concluded. A subsequent appeal was dismissed with the terse: “It is ordered that said petition for rehearing is denied.”
Deskovic, knowing his own innocence, was appalled and kept battling.
Ultimately, he was linked to the Innocence Project, and was able to establish his innocence through the discovery of the real murderer, who subsequently confessed.
“Through a twist of fate in 2005,” Deskovic writes on his website, a letter I had written was delivered to anti-death penalty activist and amateur investigator, Claudia Whitman. She suggested that I re-contact the Innocence Project and she urged them to take my case. Six months later, they took my case and obtained permission from the new district attorney to take the crime scene DNA and compare it to the state DNA database. The previous district attorney had refused prior requests to run further DNA tests. As of a result of comparing the DNA to the state data base, the actual perpetrator (Stephen Cunningham) was located.”
Since being freed, he’s graduated from Mercy College and is working on a master’s degree. He spends much of his time advocating for the innocent in prison.
He’s often expressed concern that those who made the mistakes that put him in prison haven’t been disciplined and in some cases even have worked up the ranks through promotions.
Now he sees Sotomayor on the verge of becoming a justice on the highest court in the land.
The White House, which has been releasing schedules of Sotomayor’s visits to Capitol Hill to lobby for her appointment to the court, declined to respond to WND telephone and e-mail messages requesting a comment.
But in a commentary he wrote on Politico, Deskovic explained his concerns.
“In a career that took her from a Bronx housing project to Princeton University, Yale Law School, various jobs and now the federal bench, she (Sotomayor) has said that she tries to keep in mind the real-life implications of her rulings when meting out justice,” he wrote.
Such “empathy,” in fact, was one reason Obama explained he picked her.
“Such a high-minded moral standard is what we, as a society, should expect and seek from all our judges, especially a Supreme Court justice. But considering that we are talking about a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court, we should see if, in practice, her rulings reflect that,” Deskovic said. “A review of her record in my case shows that Sotomayor’s practice does not live up to her promise.
“All seven of my appeals were turned down. Two stops along the way were in Sotomayor’s courtroom,” he said.
Now he’s working to alert Americans to the dangers he feels Sotomayor presents to the public. He assembled a group on Facebook encouraging contacts with members of the Senate to oppose Sotomayor. He also said he would like to testify against her at her Senate hearings, scheduled to take place within a few weeks.
Deskovic told WND that if Sotomayor’s appointment is affirmed, “It means that our rights are very much at risk.
“I think the fact she is being considered for an even higher position of responsibility, considering we’re talking about a lifetime appointment, that affects all of our rights.
“She’s supposed to be scrutinizing every case that comes across her desk,” he said, not using technicalities.
“What I don’t understand is why none of the U.S. senators is paying attention to this issue. … Do they agree with what (happened)?” he wondered.
He also suggested politics is playing an huge role.
“If this judge had been nominated by a Republican president, the Democrats would have been all over this,” he said.
But he said there’s no excuse, either, for the GOP not to be raising the question.
“Despite Sotomayor’s rhetoric, her ruling in my case showed a callous disregard for the real-life implications of her rulings. She opted for procedure over fairness and finality of conviction over accuracy. Many of the victims of wrongful convictions serving long sentences had exhausted their appeals long before they were exonerated. In how many of those cases did Sotomayor vote to refuse to even consider evidence of innocence?” wrote Deskovic. “My case is far from unique in an age when the reality of wrongful convictions is well-established.
“In my case, Judge Sotomayor did not demonstrate that understanding. If that is her idea of ‘empathy,’ a trait that Obama sought in his appointee, then God help us all,” Deskovic said.