The Putnam County Legislature last week approved a $12 million settlement of a federal lawsuit filed against the county by Anthony DiPippo, who was convicted of raping and murdering 12-year-old Josette Wright at two separate trials, but was later acquitted after a third trial in 2016.
Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell stressed the county will only be responsible for paying $200,000, with the rest being covered by insurance. She noted the county’s law department, outside counsel and insurers all strongly recommended the county agree to the settlement.
“This was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make as a County Executive, particularly given the circumstances of the crime and in light of the economic collapse we’re facing due to COVID-19,” Odell said. “I am, however, supporting this settlement to protect the taxpayers by capping the amount that we would be required to pay at $200,000. As a lifetime resident of Carmel and as a mother myself, I understand that what happened was an unbelievable tragedy. I also understand that there will never be closure for the victim’s family, but in light of what transpired in the criminal justice system I am now forced to make a decision that will protect county taxpayers.”
In one of the most gruesome crimes in Putnam County’s history, Andrew Krivak and DiPippo were convicted in 1997 of the rape and murder of Wright, who disappeared from her home in Carmel October 4, 1994. Krivak and DiPippo were both 14 at the time. Wright’s remains were found in the woods more than a year later.
A girlfriend of DiPippo at the time testified to witness the pair attack Wright in a van before disposing of her body. No physical evidence connected Krivak or DiPippo to the victim or the crime scene.
Krivak was tried separately from DiPippo, convicted, and sentenced to 25 years to life on June 11, 1997. DiPippo was tried immediately afterwards, convicted, and sentenced to 25 years to life on July 11, 1997. On appeal, Krivak’s conviction was affirmed, but DiPippo’s conviction 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 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. The decision to settle was made to reduce the risk to county taxpayers of a much larger verdict being awarded at trial. In fact, since DiPippo was incarcerated for nearly 20 years, he could have potentially been awarded up to $30 million, plus millions in legal fees, by a federal jury in White Plains.
“I am deeply pained by this decision, but it was not made lightly,” Putnam County Legislature Chairwoman Toni Addonizio said. “We had to weigh the possible costs against the benefits, and consider what was best for the county taxpayers in this difficult time.”
However, Putnam District Attorney Robert Tendy condemned the Legislature’s decision, maintaining DiPippo’s civil rights were never violated.
“The negligence on the part of everyone responsible for this decision is astonishing, and the decision is reprehensible,” Tendy remarked. “It is incomprehensible that the county would agree to give the plaintiff $12 million simply because he asked for it; but, realistically, that is what occurred. Had they consulted with my office, they would have discovered the baselessness of the plaintiff’s claims. I am astonished and sickened by this decision. It is incomprehensible and indefensible.”
Tendy insisted if the Legislature, Odell and county attorney had conferred with his office they would have realized the lawsuit “had no factual or legal basis and would ultimately fail.”
“In all the years that the plaintiff’s criminal case was being tried and retried there had never been a single finding by any court or a civil rights abuse or any police wrongdoing. The allegations in this lawsuit could have been disproven.”
William Carlin Jr., the county’s commissioner of finance, disagreed with Tendy’s assessment.
Carlin state, “From a fiscal perspective, this was settlement is absolutely the correct decision. The County is able to limit our risk exposure to $ 200,000, and not jeopardize our Bond Rating as the result of a possible multi-million dollar judgment against Putnam County.
In May 2019, Krivak’s conviction was thrown out by a New York State Supreme Court judge. Krivak was granted a new trial by state Supreme Court Judge David Zuckerman following a hearing in which one witness was called that testified Gombert had admitted to killing.
The witness that the defense leaned was Carmel resident Joseph Santoro, who claimed Gombert told him that “two suckers” were in jail for the Wright murder when the two men were serving time together in a Connecticut prison. Santoro testified that he first heard Gombert mention the Wright murder when he overheard him talking to another inmate about it. When Santoro spoke with Gombert, he said the authorities were trying to pin Wright’s murder on him even though two men were already in jail for it.
Assistant district attorney Larry Glasser tried to cast skepticism over Santoro’s testimony and questioned if Gombert truly admitted to the rape and murder. When Glasser asked if Gombert mentioned any details of the crime, Santoro said no. Glasser also got Santoro to acknowledge that Santoro was “good friends” with a niece of Krivak’s.
Tendy is convinced that Krivak committed the crime. After Krivak was granted a new trial last year, Tendy said the remarks allegedly made from Gombert to Santoro was not a confession of killing anyone.
“They’re trying to say that Gombert said something that implied that he committed the crime,” Tendy said at the time. “He didn’t.”