Justice, at least to the degree it can be, is finally being served in the case of Lynn M. DeJac Peters.
A $2.7 million settlement has been reached in DeJac Peters’ wrongful-conviction case between her and New York State. The state finally did right by this woman in settling with her, but only after years of delay.
DeJac Peters, certainly no candidate for mother of the year, spent 14 years in prison for the murder of her daughter – a crime she did not commit. She won her freedom in 2007, and for years the State Attorney General’s Office dragged out negotiations on a settlement agreement. In his defense, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was trying to get the best deal possible for the state’s taxpayers, but this was a case that demanded swifter resolution.
DeJac Peters was released from prison after a new autopsy concluded that her 13-year-old daughter, Crystallyn M. Girard, did not die of strangulation, but of a cocaine overdose.
As reported, the State Attorney General’s Office and DeJac Peters’ lead attorney, Steven M. Cohen, had been millions of dollars apart since then in negotiations on an appropriate settlement.
Now Cohen says new evidence was discovered Sept. 28 that leaves no doubt that an ex-boyfriend of DeJac Peters, Dennis P. Donohue, committed the slaying.
The miracle of DNA testing years after the crime showed that Donohue had been in the girl’s bedroom before her body was found. Donohue is currently in state prison serving 25 years to life for the murder of Buffalo resident Joan Giambra, murdered nine months after Crystallyn was killed. Cohen points to the obvious miscarriage of justice done to his client that allowed the real killer to remain at large and able to kill again.
DeJac Peters spent years behind bars, wrongfully convicted of committing an unthinkable crime against her own child. While she was incarcerated, others raised her twin sons and another son.
She was not a good mother. She preferred the party life to caring for her daughter. But that fact should never have outweighed the terrible injustice done to her.
The state has enormous power in its ability to incarcerate someone for a crime. But with that power comes the responsibility to get it right. Getting it wrong, and costing a woman nearly 14 years of her life, is unconscionable.
Unfortunately, money is the only way to compensate the victim of this kind of error. And while it certainly takes two to reach a settlement, five years is too long to wait to right such a wrong.
DeJac Peters’ attorneys have suits pending against Erie County and the City of Buffalo. In addition, her attorneys are suing several individuals including then Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark III in federal court. Those suits will surely add many more years to the wait for a final resolution of this case.
Just as in other wrongful conviction cases – DeJac Peters was released only months after Anthony Capozzi was freed after 21 years in prison on a wrongful conviction – this should be a hard lesson for prosecutors to examine all the possibilities.