Mom cleared 15 years after daughter died

February 29, 2008 10:55:36 AM PST
A mother who spent 13 years in prison for her teenage daughter's murder was formally cleared of charges Thursday following a startling reversal by prosecutors over how the girl died. "I'm just very grateful that the charges have been dropped against me and I'm looking forward to getting on with my life with my children," Lynn DeJac said after a state Supreme Court judge dismissed her case.

DeJac, 44, was awaiting retrial on charges she strangled 13-year-old Crystallynn Girard in 1993 when Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark recently announced that a review by forensics experts showed Crystallynn actually died of a cocaine overdose.

"There are now three forensic pathologists ... who have ruled out strangulation as the cause of death of Crystallynn Girard," Assistant District Attorney Thomas Finnerty told the judge.

Finnerty said prosecutors, in preparing for the retrial, asked two independent forensics experts to examine the 1993 autopsy findings and photos to try to better pinpoint the time of death. Instead, both experts volunteered a different cause of death, to the shock of prosecutors.

"This opinion was neither sought nor expected," Finnerty said. The change in the cause of death was not the first strange twist in the case. DeJac was released from prison and her second-degree murder conviction was overturned last November after newly analyzed DNA evidence placed her former boyfriend, Dennis Donohue, in Crystallynn's bedroom around the time she died.

Despite the finding, Clark had planned to retry DeJac, saying the man's DNA found in her daughter's body and bed did nothing to refute the circumstantial evidence that led a jury to convict DeJac of killing Crystallynn after a night of heavy drinking.

DeJac has maintained all along that Donohue is responsible for her daughter's death and has denied her daughter abused drugs. Even while thanking the district attorney's office for its "speedy action" in setting her free, she said she hoped someday to have answers to how Crystallynn died.

"I hope we do. Someday I hope we do," she said. DeJac will sue the state for wrongful imprisonment, her attorneys said, without specifying an amount.

Clark, the district attorney, declined to speculate on what DeJac may be entitled to.

"She certainly spent close to 14 years in jail and that was time out of her life," he said. "I honestly don't know how you would put a dollar value on that." DeJac gave birth to twin boys shortly before being sent to prison. Now teenagers, they have been by her side in court since being reunited with her late last year.

"What's next for me is getting my life back together, enjoying my husband, enjoying my kids and taking it one day at a time," DeJac said.

Donohue, meantime, appeared in court in a separate case Tuesday. The 55-year-old former bartender was denied bail on charges of strangling a woman in September 1993, seven months after Crystallynn's death. He was arrested in Joan Giambra's death in September 2007 based on retested DNA evidence.