32-year-old Jeffrey Deskovic had spent 16 years in prison. As a 16-year-old, he was sentenced in 1989 to a sentence of 15-to-life for confessing to the rape and murder of a classmate of his.
According to Deskovic, the confession was coerced out of him by police officers, and that he was innocent the entire time. He spent 16 years behind bars until DNA evidence arose which not only proved that he was in fact innocent, but also proved that the real criminal was already behind bars for a different murder.
Deskovic was released from prison shortly thereafter, and after suing Putnam County for damages, was awarded $41.65 million by a federal jury. Of that amount, $25 million was for his time spent wrongfully imprisoned, $15 million was for his mental anguish and suffering, and the rest was due to his lost wages over the course of those 16 years.
Unfortunately, Deskovic will not receive that full amount. Due to a pretrial settlement that he made with the county, his payout will be limited to $10 million. The $41.65 million, then, is more of a message to the flawed criminal justice system at the time, which has time and again come under fire for questionable practices.
Deskovic’s initial arrest took place because he was late to school the day that his classmate was reported missing. When she was found 2 days later, Deskovic’s DNA did not match any of the DNA at the scene, but police continued to pursue him for weeks. After three polygraph tests and a grueling seven-hour interrogation session, police finally managed to convince Deskovic that he would receive mental health treatment instead of prison if he confessed.
Talking about the interrogation, Deskovic said “I was tired, confused, scared, hungry — I wanted to get out of there. I told the police what they wanted to hear, but I never got to go home. They lied to me.”
When, during an appeal, Deskovic’s attorney tested the DNA evidence from the scene against the convicted felon database, he got a hit from someone currently inside the prison system. That man ended up confessing to the murder, and Deskovic was released and exonerated.