At age seventeen, Jeffrey Deskovic was wrongfully sentenced to life in prison for the rape and murder of a classmate. Authorities knew his DNA did not match that of the actual perpetrator – who would later murder another young woman and mother of two. Nevertheless, they colluded to convict and keep Jeff behind bars for the next 16 years. After his exoneration and release, Jeff successfully sued the responsible parties, and used a substantial portion of the compensation to start The Deskovic Foundation — a non-profit that overturns wrongful convictions and challenges the policies that enable them. Check out this riveting episode of Open Mike to learn more about Jeff’s post-prison life as a lawyer, the Amazon Prime documentary about his case, and how this traumatizing ordeal helped him find his true vocation.
[00:13] Jeffrey’s bio and background
[01:10] Jeff, you were a sixteen-year-old high school student and you were arrested for rape and murder — can you tell us what that was like?
[01:36] What kind of kid were you?
[02:14] Why do you think the police targeted you?
[02:32] Jeff didn’t necessarily fit in at school, so some students referred police to him. When Jeff was emotional over the untimely murder of a classmate, the police misinterpreted that as a sign of guilt. A psychological profile conducted by the NYPD also draw similarities between Jeff’s personal attributes and that of a potential perpetrator.
[03:49] The way you describe those three things… that could have been anybody! There’s no way you could have committed this crime, but I’m reading about a confession you gave while in custody. Tell us about that.
[06:42] After a polygraph and interrogating a terrified Jeff for 6.5-7 hours, police eventually broke Jeff into making a false confession.
[06:51] Did they say you failed the polygraph?
[07:55] After the fact, did you get readouts of this test that showed you came up clean?
[08:18] So you were arrested after you gave this nonsensical confession?
[08:38] You’re an intelligent guy, you went to law school, you’re now helping others in similar positions. Looking back on that confession, can you shed some light on how easy it is to be coerced into giving a false conviction?
[09:55] Was this all on video tape?
[10:15] Are there now laws in most states that confessions must be videotaped?
[10:32] For the sake of time, you had a public defender, were tried by a jury, and convicted… how bad was your public defender?
[12:40] There was some misconduct by a medical examiner, can you give us some details on that?
[13:07] Six months after an initial examination, the medical examiner claimed to have remembered he found evidence the deceased victim was “promiscuous” in an attempt to help the prosecutor explain why DNA found at the scene didn’t match Jeff’s.
[13:40] Was there prosecutorial misconduct other than that?
[14:24] You had a pretty famous prosecutor, yes?
[15:37] How long was the jury trial? You’re incarcerated the whole time?
[16:04] Did you recant the confession right away and tell your family and lawyer?
[16:59] So, you’re tried as an adult, convicted at sixteen-years-old, and sentenced for seventeen to twenty-five years?
[17:28] You’re seventeen, you go to prison, are in solitary confinement for twenty-eight days at one point… how horrible was that? Was that the worst part of the experience?
[18:32] Being in prison at seventeen years old… and with staff passing around pamphlets to let everyone know you’re this horrible sex offender… that had to have been the scariest thing in the whole world!
[19:21] How did you get Barry Scheck and The Innocence Project to take a look at your case?
[20:06] Tell us about the DNA. It’s a little bit confusing… Your DNA wasn’t on the scene… what was the new evidence that was presented?