Sunday, March 02, 2008

Exoneration Of Mother Imprisoned For Daughter's Murder

From ABC News:

A mother [Lynn DeJac] who spent 13 years in prison for her teenage daughter's murder was formally cleared of charges Thursday following a startling reversal by prosecutors over how the girl died.

This case in New York may have gotten more than the murderer wrong, it looks like they may also have gotten wrong the exact details of how this woman's 13-year-old daughter, Crystallynn Girard, died. The original conviction was based on the belief that the girl was strangled with no other associated crime, but now a review of the autopsy results points to death from a cocaine overdose.

One of the many things I find notable about this case is that this woman was freed not through the detective work of a defense team or an innocence project who heard about her case and championed her cause, she was freed because of the results of an autopsy review requested by prosecutors as they prepared for a retrial.

The DNA evidence which led to the scheduled retrial came from members of the Buffalo, New York's cold-case squad spearheaded by Detective Dennis Delano.

According to the mythology about wrongful convictions that I hear frequently, all wrongful convictions are against men and they are all caused by malicious investigators and prosecutors, sometimes with the help of clearly incompetent expert witnesses, and that if we just reduce the power of rogue prosecutors and experts, there will be no more wrongful convictions.

What this case makes me wonder is whether these stereotypes ever cause those who champion the wrongfully convicted to not even consider reviewing cases like this one while they do champion guilty men because those men fit their expectations of someone wrongfully convicted.

Like many others who have been exonerated, she was painted negatively as a person beyond the alleged crime. It sounds like many people judged her guilty of murder because she was viewed as an immoral woman and a bad mother.

The DNA evidence which played a key role in this case came from DeJac's former boyfriend, Dennis Donohue, and that evidence of what was likely a sexual assault caused the original conviction to be overturned. Without the work of law enforcement there would have been no review of the autopsy results.

DeJac believes that her former boyfriend -- who according to an NBC story was given immunity in exchange for testifying against DeJac -- is responsible for her daughter's death and also believes that her daughter was not a cocaine user and that the new cause of death is wrong and that her daughter was murdered. This is more than a mother's irrational anger at some hapless ex-boyfriend.

Donohue, meantime, appeared in court in a separate case Tuesday. The 55-year-old former bartender was denied bail on charges of strangling a woman in September 1993, seven months after Crystallynn's death. He was arrested in Joan Giambra's death in September 2007 based on retested DNA evidence.

This other case involving Donohue does make Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark look like he suffered from tunnel vision if he did not at least consider at the end of last year that the wrong person had been charged with murder and did not consider that a murderer would jump at the chance to get immunity from prosecution.

According to the NBC story, when DeJac came home from a wedding she and her current boyfriend were met by Donohue. They left to avoid a confrontation which may have seemed to be the safest option for all involved. When she returned later she found her daughter's body and signs of foul play.

Even if a cocaine overdose was the cause of this girl's death, there is no reason, considering the DNA evidence, to conclude that this girl died of an accident and not from homicide. From both the ABC and NBC stories it sounds like the new cause of death through accidental overdose came only from a review of the original autopsy file which wouldn't include the newer DNA evidence or evidence from the crime scene.

Someone willing to rape may have little difficulty justifying giving a child a lethal dose of cocaine either by trickery or by force. If his actions came after seeing DeJac with a new boyfriend, then his motive for rape and murder could be revenge. Framing a woman for murder would have been a nice bonus.

I'm curious if the new forensic experts saw signs of non-lethal strangulation in the original autopsy which would be consistent with actions taken during rape. At this point even if Donohue is guilty of rape and murder, it seems doubtful that he would ever be convicted of either.

Hopefully, the immunity from prosecution agreement had a perjury clause. If it didn't then all future agreements need to include such clauses.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:35 AM   0 comments links to this post


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