A piece in the
today explores the wrongful conviction of Innocence Project client John Restivo and his struggle to bounce back after 18 years in prison.
Restivo was convicted in 1987 for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl. He was implicated by an acquaintance, John Kogut, who after days of interrogation and threats signed a confession hand-written by a police officer. The confession stated that Kogut had gone out with Restivo and his friend Dennis Halstead in Restivo’s van. They picked up the victim from the street and took her to a cemetery where they raped her. Kogut then strangled her with a rope. Kogut recanted his confession almost immediately, and Restivo always maintained his innocence. His van was not running at the time and was on cinderblocks in his yard.
The case rested heavily on one piece of evidence: two strands of hair from Restivo’s van, which, the prosecution claimed, came from the victim’s head. The three men were convicted and sentenced to 30 years to life.
Centurion Ministries began working on behalf of all three defendants in 1994. The Innocence Project took on Restivo’s case in 1997. In 2002, Senior Staff Attorney Nina Morrison was assigned to the case. After a year of investigation, she stumbled upon evidence which would clear all three men.
“I had gone with a couple lawyers to look at crime-scene photographs,” she told the
. “And then, as we’re going through the boxes, the prosecutor and I pulled out an envelope, and it’s marked ‘vaginal swabs.’ And you’re, like, Oh—look at that.”
The envelope contained an intact swab with significant DNA to conclusively exclude Restivo, Halstead and Kogut. The three men were released from prison on June 11, 2003.
Although Restivo has been compensated by New York State and Nassau County for the 18 years he spent behind bars, he struggles daily with the aftermath of his conviction.
“I think for a lot of the clients there’s a sense that [compensation] is going to be the thing that helps them move on,” Morrison told the
. “But then the jury goes home; we all go home. And then, at the end of the day, they are still left with the enormity of what they’ve lost.”
Read the full story
in Vocativ for another perspective on compensation.