MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — It took a jury two hours of deliberations to undo what some have called an 18-year injustice – awarding millions of dollars to two men who were convicted of murder and rape, but were later exonerated.
But as CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, the case remained far from closed for the victim’s family.
Concetta Napoli said she wants Nassau County officials to appeal Thursday’s verdict awarding the two men $1 million for each year they spent in prison, insisting the detectives had arrested the right suspects 30 years ago.
“Not one bit of innocence in them,” Napoli said.
She believes Restivo and Halstead are indeed guilty in the 1984 murder and rape of her daughter, Theresa Fusco. of Lynbrook, and said the civil jury did not hear all the evidence.
“It’s a total disgrace of our judicial system,” the 72-year-old woman told 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera. “They got away with murder, they keep coming back for more. They’re guilty, most definitely, I have no doubt about that at all.”
The victim’s mother said she hopes Nassau County will appeal the $36 million judgment, and that exonerated defendants John Restivo and Dennis Halstead will never see a penny.
A federal jury awarded Restivo and Halstead $1 million for every year he spent in prison. A third defendant, John Kogut, was not a party to the lawsuit.
“A million dollars a year – it isn’t going to give me back those 18 years, right, but I think it was fair,” Restivo said. “The most important thing to me was that the county is finally held accountable for ruining by life.
DNA evidence, which was not available at the time of their trial, later cleared them. A civil jury this week ruled against Nassau County, believing a detective planted hair from the victims head in Restivo’s van and withheld other evidence.
“They crossed the line,” said defense attorney Nick Brustin of Nuefeld, Scheck and Brustin LLP. “They made up evidence, they hid evidence that didn’t help their case, and this is the result – 30 years of hell for two families.”
Fusco, a popular teenager who dreamed of becoming a professional dancer, according to her mother, disappeared after leaving her part-time job at a Lynbrook roller-skating rink in November 1984. Her nude body was found weeks after the assault, buried under leaves in a wooded area near the rink. The three men were later convicted of the murders, but DNA testing unavailable in the 1980s found that someone other than the three had committed the killings.
The charges against them were dropped in 2005.
Attorneys for the men blamed a now deceased detective, Joseph Volpe, and other police officers for either falsifying evidence or withholding evidence from prosecutors and the jury.
“When a promising initial lead reached a dead end, Volpe, desperate to solve this high-profile crime, planted hairs from the victim’s head in John Restivo’s van, and deliberately hid evidence that proved their innocence,” Brustin said.
Testimony during the federal civil rights trial also showed that police had kept from both prosecutors and defense attorneys a report about a car stolen the night Fusco went missing. When the car was found several weeks later, the owner reported finding a pair of women’s jeans inside.
Fusco’s mother had told detectives her daughter was wearing jeans when she went missing, but police discarded the jeans and never had them examined, attorney Anna Benvenutti Hoffmann said.
After spending 6,566 days in prison for a crime he said he did not commit, Restivo wants the Nassau County District Attorney’s office to reexamine cases related to Volpe.
“We hope that this verdict will cause the county to examine why and how Detective Volpe was able to get away with this extraordinarily serious misconduct, and re-evaluate its policies to insure this tragedy happens to no one else,” Hoffmann said.
Hoffman told WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall that living all those years in prison was damaging to Restivo and Halstead.
“Think about what happens over 18 years, you know your entire life passes you by while you are living in constant fear and in horrible conditions,” Hoffman said.“The sad thing is that even once they got out that’s a horrific trauma so you can’t just leave it behind. You step out of the prison gates and you’re still suffering.”
County officials were not commenting, citing pending litigation, although a spokeswoman could not say whether attorneys planned to appeal.
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