A Putnam County man was greeted by family and friends last week as he walked out of the Putnam County Correctional Facility following 24 years behind bars.
Andrew Krivak, who was found guilty of the rape and murder of 12-year-old Josette Wright, was released from custody on bail last Friday after state Supreme Court Judge David Zuckerman overturned his conviction last year. Krivak will remain on house arrest as he awaits another trial.
“I feel unspeakable amounts of emotion, and before I get too ahead of myself to celebrate, I still want it to be aware that I was wrongfully convicted,” Krivak said. “Until the day that they acknowledge that and admit that they were wrong, I will continue my fight to vindicate myself and clear my name.”
Krivak’s co-defendant, Anthony DiPippo, who hugged him upon his release, was acquitted of the 1994 slaying in 2016 during his third trial. Both men were arrested on July 1, 1996 and found guilty a year later in separate trials.
Wright disappeared on Oct. 3, 1994, with her remains discovered 13 months later by a hunter in a wooded area off Fields Lane in Patterson.
During the trial, DiPippo’s ex-girlfriend Denise Rose testified that she witnessed the pair rape and suffocate Wright in a van before disposing her body in the woods. She further claimed DiPippo threatened her life if she spoke of the incident.
However, while there was no physical evidence connecting Krivak or DiPippo to the victim or the crime scene, the prosecution had a confession from Krivak, which he contends was coerced by investigators. Both DiPippo and Krivak were sentenced to 25 years to life.
On appeal, Krivak’s conviction was upheld, but DiPippo’s was reversed, due to a conflict of interest. DiPippo was then tried again and convicted. His second conviction was also reversed, this time because evidence had been kept from the jury that Howard Gombert, serving a prison sentence in Connecticut for abusing a nine-year-old girl, had also confessed to the murder of Wright and was suspected of the crime by Carmel Police.
After DiPippo was acquitted in 2016, Putnam County was exposed to liability for federal civil rights violations, including wrongful conviction and due process claims. In August, the Putnam County Legislature approved a $12 million settlement against the county.
In May 2019, Zuckerman overturned Krivak’s conviction and requested a new trial following a hearing in which Carmel resident Joseph Santaro testified that Gombert told him that “two suckers” were in jail for Wright’s murder. The two men were serving time together in a Connecticut prison.
On Friday, Krivak’s attorney’s, Oscar Michelin and Karen Neuwirth, pressed Putnam County District Attorney Robert Tendy to dismiss the case and absolve Krivak. Michelin said Tendy’s office is the only one claiming there’s enough evidence for a re-trial, with Neuwirth asserting the police’s misconduct during the case will leave a stain on the community.
Tendy told The Putnam Examiner that his office believes there is enough strong evidence to take Krivak to trial, asserting his confidence a pending application to appeal the Court of Appeals will be approved. He added that Krivak has only been released because of his office due to the significant time and effort it will take to prepare “a complex case such as this” for trial.
“Just because a person says they’re innocent and calls for the case to be dismissed, it doesn’t mean we do it,” Tendy said. “We have to follow the evidence and where the evidence takes us, and in this case, we are confident in our case.”
Exoneree Jeffrey Deskovic, whose foundation supported Krivak’s case, condemned Tendy for wanting to waste taxpayer dollars and court resources to try Krivak again.
“There is a mountain of evidence against serial pedophile Howard Gombert, and all the witnesses in this case have recanted and said that they were threatened,” Deskovic said. “He lost enough time already, 24 years. It’s a travesty that he’s remained in prison four years after Anthony was exonerated on the same set of facts.”
Deskovic stated that those convicted of sex crimes are often targeted by other inmates seeking vigilante justice. DiPippo added that it’s never too late to fix an injustice, while offering Tendy an olive branch to work together to come to a resolution.
Krivak said he intends to spend time with loved ones now that he’s released. He explained that over the last 24 years he’s felt nothing but pain and suffered life-threatening instances, always wondering when he would be granted the opportunity to clear his name and be reunited with his family.
Now that he’s free, Krivak said he doesn’t entertain the thought of being convicted again if there’s another trial.
“I don’t believe there’s a chance in hell any jury would convict me because I’m innocent,” Krivak said.