2 New York men awarded $36M in wrongful conviction

Date of Alert: 
Wednesday, April 23, 2014

MINEOLA, N.Y. — Two suburban New York men who spent 18 years in prison for the 1984 rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl, only to be exonerated when a DNA test showed that another unknown assailant had committed the crimes, were awarded $18 million each Thursday in a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The verdict, announced in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, followed a four-week trial. The jury found that the lead detective in the 1984 Nassau County police investigation had both fabricated hair evidence and hid other evidence from prosecutors. Because of those actions, the jury found that John Restivo and Dennis Halstead were entitled to a combined $36 million in damages.

In essence, the men were awarded $1 million for every year they spent in prison for their wrongful convictions.

All charges were dismissed against the men in 2005 after DNA testing — unavailable in the 1980s — proved that the rape and murder of Theresa Fusco, of Lynbrook, had been committed by another man. That person has never been apprehended.

Fusco disappeared after leaving her part-time job at a Lynbrook, Long Island, 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 lead detective in the case, Joseph Volpe, has since died. Nassau County Attorney Carnell Foskey said in a statement Thursday: "We do not comment on pending litigation."

Nick Brustin, one of the attorneys representing Restivo and Halstead, said the jury verdict proved his clients were the victims of intentional misconduct by Nassau County detectives.

"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 in a statement. "Today a jury finally acknowledged what the County never has — that its own officers' intentional misconduct robbed these innocent men of eighteen years of their lives."

Newsday reported Thursday that John Kogut, who also was convicted in the teenager's death and later exonerated, was not part of the civil rights trial.

April 17, 2014, 5:18 p.m. ET —Copyright 2014 Associated Press