John Restivo and Dennis Halstead spent 18 years in prison after a jury convicted them on charges of raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl on Long Island in 1984. In 2003 DNA evidence showed that somebody else actually committed the crime, and Nassau County prosecutors dismissed the charges, setting the men free.
They sued the county. Jurors in federal court in Central Islip heard testimony suggesting that a detective planted evidence on Restivo and hid evidence that worked in the defendants’ favor. On Thursday, the jury awarded Restivo and Halstead $18 million each.
Restivo, Halstead, and a third co-defendant, John Kogut, first sued the county in 2006, but their initial legal efforts were unsuccessful. In 2012, a federal jury determined that they were not entitled to any compensation.
A year later, though, U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert overturned the verdict, on grounds that she gave flawed jury instructions. She granted the three men a retrial. Kogut had a separate retrial and the jury decided against him.
Kogut had been arrested in December 1984, a few weeks after police found the body of Theresa Fusco near the roller skating rink where she worked. For 18 straight hours, detectives interrogated him. He confessed and told police that he committed the crime along with Restivo and Halstead. He recanted the confession before the trial and all three men proclaimed their innocence. (The judge in Kogut’s wrongful conviction retrial concluded that the confession had been coerced.)
In the murder trial, the defense team showed evidence that detective Joseph Volpe planted hair in Restivo’s van. Prosecutors built their case on Kogut’s confession and the testimony of inmates who were locked up with the defendants. The jury found them guilty.
Eighteen years after the convictions, new evidence had convinced Nassau Country prosecutors that the men should be released. Semen found on the girl’s body did not match Restivo, Halstead, or Kogut. The true culprit has not been identified.