The three men convicted of the 1984 rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl in Lynbrook sued Nassau County six years ago for more than $190 million in damages after new DNA evidence exonerated them. But a verdict in the case was finally reached Thursday when a federal jury in the Eastern District of New York ruled in favor of Nassau County.
Had the jury sided with the three plaintiffs -- Dennis Halstead, John Kogut, and John Restivo -- it could have "broken the fiscal back of this county," Nassau County Attorney John Ciampoli stated during a press conference Friday.
"Our police department has been vindicated, and these litigants have been denied a chance to turn what, in my opinion, is a heinous crime into a payday that would cripple Nassau County," Ciampoli stated.
Halstead, Kogut, and Restivo were charged in 1985 with raping and murdering 16-year-old Theresa Fusco, of Lynbrook. Fusco was found on Dec. 5, 1984 raped and strangled near the Hot Skates roller rink on Merrick Road, where she had been working. The three men were sentenced to more than 30 years in prison, but were released in 2003 after new DNA evidence showed the semen found on the girl's body belonged to another man and the convictions were overturned.
A few years after they were freed, the trio then sued seven former Nassau County Police detectives, allegeding that they forced Kogut to falsely confess to the crimes against Fusco during interrogations.
According to The New York Times, Kogut, then 21, had given a videotaped confession, which he later recanted, saying that Fusco had voluntarily gotten into a van near Hot Skates with him, Restivo and Halstead, and the four drove to a nearby cemetery. There, he said Restivo and Halstead allegedly raped the girl, and then persuaded him to strangle her and they dumped the body near Hot Skates.
Ciampoli said the charges against the Nassau County Police Department in this case were "most serious."
"The legal legal team opposing us did not hesitant to bash the county, bash the police department," he explained. But said Thursday's court ruling "vindicated" the Nassau County Police Department, its practices and procedures.
"I'm hoping the win will give a boost to the morale of our [police department], who are sometimes treated unfairly with the attacks on them and are out there on the streets protecting us," Ciampoli said.
The three men also sued the New York Attorney General's office, which paid out millions of dollars to them, Ciampoli explained, but said he and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano agreed that the county "must not back down and pay taxpayers' money" to people who are, in his opinion, "criminals." To date, the county has spent roughly one million dollars fighting this lawsuit.
"In our opinion, these men are criminals ... they committed the crimes they were charged with and are responsible to what happened to Theresa Fusco," Ciampoli stated.
Ciampoli pointed out that this case was one of the first in which the policy of using outside counsel in partnership with County Attorney's Office was applied. The trial team was led by Louis Freeman, of Freeman, Nooter and Ginsberg, who worked with his partner Lee Ginsberg and Deputy County Attorney Michael Ferguson.
Ciampoli expects the plaintiffs will appeal the case, costing the county more money, but says, "I am equally certain that they will lose -- again."
"In some small way, this is partial justice for Theresa Fusco," he added. "I only could wish that these men were in prison, where I think they belong."