Key pieces of evidence in the killing of 13-year-old Crystallyn M. Girard were either intentionally ignored or missed, leading to a cover-up and miscarriage of justice involving Erie County’s former top prosecutors and detectives in the city’s homicide squad, lawyers for Lynn M. DeJac Peters, the victim’s wrongfully imprisoned mother, contended Tuesday.
The attorneys cited:
• The position of Crystallyn’s body in the bedroom of her South Buffalo home. She was found lying on her back, spread eagled, with a laceration to her left breast, which matched the same position and cuts for two other slain women. Dennis P. Donohue was later convicted of murdering one of the women, Joan Giambra in 1993, and he was named as a person of interest in the case of the other, Carol Reed, who was slain in 1975.
• A vaginal swab containing sperm taken from the teenager that was never tested for DNA.
• Donohue’s allegedly receiving a pass as a potential suspect in Crystallyn’s slaying because he worked at a South Buffalo “cop bar,” which was co-owned by Tommy Duebell, a police officer at the time.
In addition, Donohue was reported to be a brother-in-law in the Duebell family.
These allegations of police and prosecutorial errors and apparent efforts to block justice were made at a news conference Tuesday where it was announced that DeJac Peters received a $2.7 million settlement from New York State for her nearly 14 years behind bars.
Wrongful imprisonment, according to lead attorney Steven M. Cohen and attorney Diane R. Tiveron, could have been avoided if all of the evidence from the February 1993 murder of Crystallyn Girard had been reviewed back then, pointing police to Donohue as the real killer.
Giambra, slain in September of 1993, Cohen added, might still be alive.
Instead, Cohen said, Crystallyn’s mother, DeJac Peters, was sent to prison and her boyfriend at the time, Donohue, was granted immunity in exchange for testifying against her to a grand jury.
The mother, now 49, was an easy target because of her lifestyle, Cohen said. DeJac Peters had been criticized by authorities and neighbors for failing to pay closer attention to her daughter.
In past comments, DeJac Peters has said she was “100 percent guilty” of leaving her daughter alone and has suffered because of that.
Crystallyn was killed either late on the night of Feb. 13, 1993, or in the early morning of Feb. 14, authorities have said, while alone in the house with only the family’s dog.
“Joseph Marusak and Frank Clark had to get the jury to hate Lynn because the evidence did not support the charges against her,” Cohen said, referring to the top homicide prosecutor and the Erie County district attorney, respectively, at the time.
Cohen said attention in the case is turning to DeJac Peters’ $30 million civil lawsuit pending before Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny against Clark, Marusak and seven homicide detectives and supervisors, along with the City of Buffalo and the county Medical Examiner’s Office.
Attorneys hired by Clark and Marusak were highly critical of Cohen’s statements during a 90-minute news conference in the Amherst law offices of HoganWillig.
“There is a vast difference between the standard of proof for a press conference and the standard of proof for a courtroom. We will defend this case in the courtroom if it’s not dismissed beforehand,” said Terrence M. Connors, lawyer for Clark.
R. Scott Atwater, attorney for Marusak, said, “Any new evidence he [Cohen] claims exists has not been disclosed in the federal court action, but Joseph Marusak is an honorable man who at all times conducted himself honestly and ethically, and any suggestion to the contrary is reckless and false.”
Cohen has credited Dennis A. Delano, a now-retired Buffalo cold case squad detective, with uncovering the DNA evidence that resulted in DeJac Peters’ release from prison in 2007.
Buffalo police officials have steadfastly argued that it was other cold case detectives, Mary E. Gugliuzza and Charles J. Aronica, who led the behind-the-scenes effort to free DeJac Peters.
While details about sperm samples belonging to Donohue appear to be a new development, there were previous DNA tests that linked Donohue to a vaginal swab. But Cohen said that DNA was from other bodily residue, namely Donohue’s skin cells.
Cohen also said that the cause of Crystallyn’s death should now be settled once and for all, with independent reviews by pathologists separately hired by the State Attorney General’s Office and HoganWillig during the negotiations to settle the wrongful-imprisonment suit against the state.
He said that on Sept. 28, the pathologists agreed that seven slides of tissue and the vaginal swab proved she was raped and strangled, a direct contradiction to a revised 2008 ruling by noted forensic pathologist Dr. Michael M. Baden.
Baden was brought in by Clark to review the original autopsy findings by Dr. Sung-ook Baik, the then-associate chief county medical examiner, who had ruled that the death was caused by strangulation.
Baden stated that his review of samples taken from the teenager determined that Crystallyn died of a cocaine overdose and a head injury.
The independent pathologists, Cohen said, found no evidence of alcohol or drug abuse.
“A cocaine addict at the ripe old age of 13,” Cohen said in disparaging Baden, contending that the doctor’s opinion proved convenient for Clark at a time when the DA was considering re-election.
A state official took issue with Cohen implying that his legal team and the state were in accord on key facts in reaching the $2.7 million settlement.
“The pathologists’ review had no role in the settlement. We were waiting for a reduction on the dollar-amount demands from the other side.
The original request was $14 million, and there was no way we were going with that,” the state official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Cohen, in explaining reasons for settling on the lesser dollar amount, which he described as fair, said the state’s liability in locking up his client was minimal when compared with the failure of a more thorough homicide investigation and what he believes was a concerted effort by prosecutors and police to corrupt the system.
DeJac Peters did not attend the news conference because of recent surgery, but her husband, Chuck Peters, said his wife was “happy” about the settlement.
“We’re looking for a little bit of truth,” Peters said, “and a whole lot of justice.”