When Jeffrey Deskovic graduated law school earlier this spring, it was just another milestone in a surreal journey for a man once convicted, but eventually exonerated, of rape and murder.
Deskovic, who successfully sued Putnam County for their role in his unjust guilty verdict dating back to the 1990s, graduated from the Pace University School of Law last month as a man who was once a defendant now will get zealously represent clients once he passes the bar exam later this year.
“I’m going to be able to fully, completely turn the tables going from defendant to being an attorney once I get the law license,” he said in an interview. “I’m pretty sure the people that were responsible for what happened to me, they never thought I would wind up being a lawyer.”
“It’s an increase in confidence,” he added. “I feel even better about myself.”
What happen to Deskovic, a Peekskill native, was unthinkable. He was falsely accused of the rape and murder of a classmate when he was 16-years-old. The Putnam Sheriff ’s Office was culpable in his wrongful conviction because a former sheriff ’s investigator, Dan Stephens, helped extract a false confession from him using a polygraph test and applying emotional pressure. When Deskovic sued the county over this a few years ago, he won the lawsuit.
Deskovic was dead set on being an attorney in 2007 after he graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Mercy College. But his LSAT weren’t high enough at the time so he couldn’t get into a school. A few years later he addressed Pace Law School students and was encouraged by a professor to give it another try.
This time, he was able to get into Pace.
While Deskovic during his civil cases against various municipalities sat in the front row in court, he really wanted to be more involved with his attorneys. He picked up plenty from learning about his own criminal case with regards to criminal procedure and sat through numerous depositions from his civil suits, which helped him in law school.
Criminal procedure investigation was, to no surprise considering how much first-hand knowledge he already had, his favorite class. One time he even got up and spoke to his classmates about his own experience. By the time he graduated, most, if not all, of his classmates knew his life story and how he was wrongly convicted.
Putnam is still at the forefront of Deskovic’s mind because his foundation is fighting for the release of Andrew Krivak, who was convicted of the rape and murder of Carmel girl Josette Wright in 1994. Krivak remains in jail, but was recently granted a new trial. The man he was accused of committing the crime with, Anthony DiPippo, was found not guilty during his third trial in 2016.
He also thinks all of the cases that Stephens worked on should be reviewed with healthy skepticism, including the Krivak case. Part of the reason Deskovic didn’t settle with the county when he sued them over Stephen’s role in his conviction several yeas ago is because he wanted to “expose” Stephens and what Deskovic alleged was misconduct.
Deskovic is confident that Krivak is innocent.
“I’m 100 percent sure he didn’t do it,” Dekovic said of Krivak.
He believes a sexual predator that lived in the area at the time of the crime, Howard Gombert, was the person that killed Wright. Putnam District Attorney Robert Tendy has maintained that his office believes Krivak is guilty after a thorough review of all the evidence.
Deskovic will take the bar exam at the end of July and get the results in September. If he passes, it will fulfill a lifelong dream for him. While he was motivated to get into law because of his own terrible experience, even as a child growing up being an attorney intrigued him. His mother had a personal injury lawyer that was well-dressed, well- respected and seemed to earn a good living and he wanted to be like that.
But now instead of just being well- dressed and well-paid, Deskovic wants justice for those wrongly accused.
“I’m still making that dream happen,” he said. “It’s just with different motivation.”