BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - A mother whose murder conviction was overturned after she'd spent more than 13 years in prison for her daughter's death says the state is dragging its feet on her multimillion-dollar wrongful imprisonment claim.
An attorney for Lynn DeJac Peters said the New York attorney general's office has so far refused to negotiate a settlement and a civil trial, which had been scheduled to start this week, has been indefinitely postponed.
"I think they're simply trying to wear her down, which is a shame," attorney Steven Cohen said.
He said DeJac Peters sought $10 million in a written demand in 2009 but has since reduced the amount to "a seven-figure demand," which he declined to specify.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who took office in 2011, said Wednesday the office doesn't yet have all of the information it needs to enter into settlement negotiations in the wrongful imprisonment case.
"This office is consistently working to ensure real justice for the claimants of such cases, while fulfilling its duty to represent New York taxpayers," a statement from Schneiderman's office said. "We are working to expeditiously resolve this matter for all parties involved."
No new date has been set for the civil trial, which would take place if no settlement is reached.
Cohen said state lawyers have been holding up the Court of Claims case with requests for additional information about how 13-year-old Crystallynn Girard died and have forced DeJac Peters to look at autopsy photos of her daughter during pretrial depositions.
DeJac Peters' second-degree murder conviction for allegedly strangling the honor student in 1993 was overturned in 2007 after newly analyzed DNA evidence placed the mother's former boyfriend in Crystallynn's bedroom around the time she died.
Despite that finding, the Erie County District Attorney's office was moving forward with plans to retry DeJac when in 2008 it announced that forensics experts hired to better pinpoint the time of Crystallynn's death concluded she died of an accidental cocaine overdose. The charges against DeJac Peters were then dropped.
Cohen said Tuesday that regardless of whether Crystallynn was murdered by DeJac Peters' former boyfriend — as DeJac Peters believes — or died accidentally, DeJac Peters had nothing to do with Crystallynn's death. He questioned why the state would hold up the wrongful imprisonment case for a cause of death.
"They're stalling making an offer until they determine that," he said. "I think it's a red herring."
DeJac, who also had a son, gave birth to twin boys shortly before being sent to prison. They were teenagers when she was released.
DeJac Peters' former boyfriend, Dennis Donohue, is serving 25 years to life in prison after being convicted in 2008 of strangling a woman in 1993.
Having a conviction overturned doesn't automatically entitle a person to damages from the state. They must prove to a judge in the state court of Claims that they were unjustly convicted and imprisoned.
Cases that go to trial are heard in two parts. The first determines whether the state is liable. If so, the judge, in the second phase, determines the amount of damages.
In 2010, New York state agreed to pay a record $4.25 million in compensation to a mentally ill man in Buffalo who wrongly spent 22 years in prison for two rapes later attributed to another man. Anthony Capozzi was freed in 2007 after being exonerated by DNA evidence. He'd sought $41 million in damages in a lawsuit filed in 2008.
The previous single biggest payout was $2.6 million given to Roy Brown, who was blamed for strangling a social worker in upstate New York's Finger Lakes region in 1991. He served 15 years before also being exonerated in 2007 by DNA evidence. Brown sued the state in May 2007 seeking $5 million. The settlement was announced in December 2008.
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