Lynn M. DeJac Peters, the mother wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for nearly 14 years in the murder of her daughter, has terminal cancer.
She said doctors at Roswell Park Cancer Institute have told her she has a limited amount of time to live and that she should enjoy what little is left.
“For me, it is a blessing either way. I get to stay here with my family, and if I don’t, I get to go see the love of my life, Crystallyn. I actually have the best of both worlds. That’s the truth. I have my boys to live for here, but if I don’t make it here, I have the love of my life waiting. So I really do have the best of both worlds,” DeJac Peters, 49, told The Buffalo News on Wednesday.
DeJac Peters says she has been receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments for the cancer, known as invasive moderately differentiated adenocarcinoma.
Cancer runs in her family, she said. Her sister Carol and brother Edward both died from the disease in their 50s.
“I have a mass in my right lung and three smaller ones in my left, and my spine is affected, causing paralysis. It’s difficult to walk, and there is numbness in my arms. The other day, I tried to make a birthday cake for my twins, and I couldn’t mix the batter,” DeJac Peters said.
“The doctors have told me the cancer is inoperable and only one out of 100 live past five years.”
Her twins, Douglas and Keith, are now 19, and her son Edward is 28.
While she is embracing her faith, DeJac Peters said, it is hard not to feel bitterness toward those who wrongfully imprisoned her.
“They took 14 years of my life and then another five years,” she said of the former Erie County prosecutors who convicted her and of the state attorneys who only last November reached a settlement for her wrongful imprisonment.
In 1993, she was arrested and charged with strangling her daughter, Crystallyn M. Girard, 13. The following year, while steadfastly maintaining her innocence, she was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison.
DeJac Peters, who left two newborn twins and a young son behind to be raised by Chuck Peters, the twins’ father, was released from prison in 2007 after members of the Buffalo Police Department’s Cold Case Squad uncovered exonerating DNA evidence from Crystallyn’s body that was traced to Dennis P. Donohue, who was later convicted of murdering a Buffalo woman.
Her attorney, Steven M. Cohen, said the news about his client’s illness left him with two emotions: “I got choked up and sad for Lynn, but it reinvigorated my anger at Marusak and Clark,” he said, referring to former Assistant District Attorney Joseph J. Marusak, who prosecuted the case against DeJac Peters, and Frank J. Clark III, who at the time was Marusak’s supervisor in the District Attorney’s Office.
Clark went on to be elected district attorney and retired from the post four years ago. Cohen said Clark had arranged for Dennis P. Donohue to receive immunity in exchange for his testimony before the grand jury against DeJac, who was single at the time and had gone on a few dates with Donohue.
Clark had responded to the DNA findings of samples that were uncovered by hiring a noted forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael M. Baden, who reviewed the autopsy by the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office and toxicology findings, and issued a revised ruling that Crystallyn died from an accidental cocaine overdose, rather than strangulation.
Donohue, meanwhile, is in prison for 25 years to life for the murder of Joan Giambra in 1993 and remains a person of interest in the 1975 slaying of Carol Reed.
On DeJac Peters’ behalf, Cohen last year filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking $30 million in damages against Clark, Marusak, seven city homicide detectives and supervisors, Erie County and the City of Buffalo.
Cohen says that if authorities back then had done their job “with integrity” when Crystallyn was murdered in February 1993, “Donohue wouldn’t have been at large in September 1993 to murder Joan Giambra.”
Attorneys for Marusak and Clark have said they intend to vigorously defend their clients against the allegations in the lawsuit.
Concerned that DeJac Peters might not survive long enough for a trial in U.S. District Court, Cohen said he intends to file a motion for a “trial preference” to quicken the process.
The attorney is also considering obtaining permission from the court to allow DeJac Peters’ testimony to be recorded ahead of time on video.
DeJac Peters says she has a positive outlook.
“I don’t want gloom and doom. I’ve had enough of that. I want my friends to have an upbeat positive attitude,” she said, asking for prayers for herself and “for all cancer victims and survivors.”