He believed in love, not in twisted accusations.
His devotion spoke louder than any prosecutor's words.
There was only one verdict in the heart and mind of Chuck Peters: Innocent, even after the woman he loved was found guilty of killing her own daughter.
When it comes to commitment, Peters is the male version of Tammy Wynette. His theme: Stand By Your Woman.
He is the rock of commitment in the Lynn DeJac Peters story. He knew her before tragedy struck. They moved in together soon after the 1993 death of Lynn's daughter, Crystallyn. Their twin sons were born shortly after she was accused – wrongly – of killing the 13-year-old. Through the years, his faith in his wife never faltered.
“I knew her before this happened,” he told me. “I had seen her and Crystallyn together, many times. I knew there was no way it was possible Lynn could have [harmed her]. They were as much friends as they were mother-daughter.”
I spoke with Peters on Thursday, in the dining room of the family's neat two-story home in South Buffalo. He is nearly 60, with carved cheekbones, graying hair and mitt-sized workingman's hands. Many men in his place would have walked away. It is tough to hang in when the one you love is serving 25-to-life.
Instead of running away, Chuck Peters stood tall.
The state last week put the punctuation on this unlikeliest of love stories. Acknowledging a massive prosecutorial blunder, the Attorney General's Office awarded DeJac Peters – who was freed five years ago – $2.7 million for nearly 14 years of wrongful imprisonment.
While his wife was behind bars, Chuck Peters held the family together.
He earned custody of their twin infants, taking them from foster care. He raised the twins, with help from family members, as well as DeJac's son and his boy from their first marriages. The independent contractor used his skill with hammer and saw to provide for the slapped-together family of five.
He shared with Lynn the Hitchcockian nightmare of the wrongly accused. Days turned to months, months turned to years. They clung to the hope that the darkest hour might be just before the dawn.
“I'd tell him, 'Go, be with somebody else,' ” DeJac Peters told me. “He'd say, 'No, I have you.' ”
Hearing her say it, Peters shrugged.
“Some people are worth waiting for,” he said. “We have kids together. Once I am in, I am in all the way ... I just wondered if I'd still be [alive] when she got out.”
The court denied her appeals. Instead of turning his back, Peters 12 years ago asked for her hand. They honeymooned at her place, gazing longingly at each other through the Plexiglas at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.
Last week's $2.7 million settlement put an exclamation point on the truth, as Chuck Peters always knew it. Prosecutors during the trial painted her as a late-night floozy. He knew she worked nights at her mother's bar, then cleaned up at another place before heading home at dawn's light. Instead of a party gal, he knew her as a one-man woman.
She maintained her innocence, even when the state put her in a psychiatric unit for denying the “truth” of her guilt. From the day her daughter died, she pointed a finger at Dennis Donohue – whom she said she went out with twice and never slept with. Donohue stalked her that night. He held a knife to the throat of the family friend she had gone with to a wedding. Donohue likely had already gotten away with a 1970s murder, and would soon kill again. Instead of slapping the cuffs on the prime suspect, prosecutors at the time – in a massive blunder – granted Donohue immunity and went after Lynn.
She was saved five years ago by folk-hero cop Dennis Delano. The cold-case detective uncovered DNA evidence that implicated Donohue in Crystallyn's death and freed DeJac Peters. The Attorney General's Office initially hard-balled her on compensation, pushing for a civil trial to set damages. Then its investigators two months ago saw the evidence. It placed convicted killer Donohue's DNA inside Crystallyn's body and at the death scene. The attorney general conceded the obvious and wrote DeJac Peters a $2.7 million “Sorry About That” check.
The tables have turned. DeJac Peters now is suing the cops and officials – principally ex-prosecutor Joe Marusak and ex-District Attorney Frank Clark – whom she claims knowingly withheld evidence and misshaped testimony to railroad her into prison.
Through it all, Chuck Peters stood by her side. Theirs is the unlikeliest of love stories, nearly 20 years in the telling.
It just goes to show: Some happy endings come harder than others.