Putnam County likely faces second civil-rights lawsuit
Andrew Krivak, who spent 24 years in prison after being convicted of the rape and murder of a 12-year-old Carmel girl, was acquitted on Monday (Feb. 27) in a retrial at the Putnam County courthouse.
Krivak had been convicted, along with Anthony DiPippo, in 1997 in the killing of Josette Wright. DiPippo, twice convicted and granted new trials, was acquitted in 2016 and later settled a federal civil-rights lawsuit with Putnam County for $12 million. The county now faces a similar payout to Krivak.
“The jury has rendered its decision and we must respect it,” District Attorney Robert Tendy, who tried the case, said on Tuesday. He declined further comment but told The Journal News that he still believes Krivak is guilty. Tendy also earlier criticized the county settlement with DiPippo, calling it “incomprehensible and indefensible.”
In a response at the time, then-County Executive MaryEllen Odell dismissed Tendy’s reaction as “an emotional response in a case where two prior district attorneys obtained convictions but he was unable to do so.” The settlement cost the county $200,000, with the remainder covered by insurance.
The most recent exoneration is “obviously a vindication of Andrew’s innocence, which we’ve been saying for a lot of years,” said Oscar Michelen, who represented Krivak. “It’s also a statement on the complete lack of evidence in this case. We had seven weeks of trial and the jury took less than six hours to deliberate.”
Michelen said lawsuits were likely under the state’s Unjust Conviction Act and federal civil rights law, but that “the next step is just to decide what Andrew wants to do with his life. He’s been under house arrest for a couple of years, and then before that he was incarcerated for over 20 of the most formative years of his life. He now has this off his head.”
Michelen said Tendy’s decision to prosecute the case after Krivak’s conviction was overturned was “disturbing. It seemed to be very personal, almost a vendetta. He didn’t care what the evidence was, he was going to plow ahead.”
DiPippo and Krivak were convicted of second-degree murder in separate trials for their alleged participation in the 1994 rape and murder of Josette. Her remains were discovered in Patterson in November 1995, more than a year after she disappeared.
A key difference between the two prosecutions is that Krivak provided a statement that the defense contended was a false confession coerced by Putnam County sheriff investigators.
The primary witness for the state was Denise Rose, a former friend of both men who testified that, while sitting in Krivak’s van, she watched Krivak and DiPippo rape and suffocate Josette before carrying her body into the woods. The defense contended Rose was a compulsive liar who used information fed to her by the sheriff’s investigators because they threatened her with prosecution.
DiPippo’s conviction was overturned in 2011 when an appellate court determined that his lawyer failed to disclose that he had previously represented Howard Gombert Jr., a sex offender who was later put forth as a more likely suspect in Wright’s death.
Gombert is serving a 30-year sentence in Connecticut after being convicted of sexually assaulting an 8-year-old girl in 2000. He is also a suspect in the 1995 disappearance of 17-year-old Robin Murphy from a Carmel shopping center on Route 52, where Gombert worked at a coin-operated laundry. Gombert has denied involvement in Wright’s death or Murphy’s disappearance.
DiPippo was re-tried in 2012 and again found guilty, but that conviction was overturned in 2016 when an appeals court ruled that DiPippo’s lawyer should have been allowed to present testimony from a former Carmel resident who was imprisoned with Gombert in Connecticut and who said Gombert had implicated himself.
During the second retrial, DiPippo’s attorneys questioned the tactics of Putnam sheriff investigator Patrick Castaldo, now retired, and other deputies when they took statements from alleged witnesses to the crime.
During DiPippo’s third trial, in 2016, which lasted for three weeks, the jury deliberated for a day before finding him not guilty.
Leonard Sparks contributed reporting.