BUFFALO, N.Y. (CN) – A mother who was exonerated after serving almost 14 years in prison for the strangling death of her 13-year-old daughter claims that investigators and prosecutors ignored evidence that pointed to her daughter’s real killer, who has been convicted of strangling another woman to death that same year. Lynn Peters claims police and prosecutors used false testimony to put her behind bars.
Peters, formerly known as Lynn DeJac, demands $30 million in damages from Erie County, the City of Buffalo and its Police Department, former Chief of Homicide Charles Fieramusca, former District Attorney Frank Clark III, former Assistant District Attorney Joseph Marusak, and a slew of detectives.
In her federal complaint, Peters says she was exonerated after a cold-case investigation found that DNA at the crime scene belonged to Dennis Donohue, who Peters says was stalking her the night her daughter was murdered.
Donohue is serving 25 years to life in prison for the September 1993 murder of another woman, Joan Giambra, according to a 2008 report from CBS news. At Donohue’s sentencing, the judge called him a “cold-blooded murderer. You brutally murdered a woman you knew. You’re smart, but DNA technology caught up with you,” according to the CBS report.
Giambra was found strangled to death and nude, with her 11-year-old daughter nude and catatonic on top of her, CBS reported. Peters’ daughter, Crystallynn Girard, was found in similar conditions, also in 1993.
Police called Donohue a “person of interest” in Girard’s killing, and in the 1975 killing of another woman, but state prosecutors said after his sentencing that they would not prosecute him for either of those killings, according to CBS.
Donohue worked as a bartender in a bar co-owned by a Buffalo police officer, according to Peters’ complaint.
On Feb. 14, 1993, after a night out, Peters found her daughter dead in her bedroom, wearing nothing but a pair of socks. An autopsy determined that she had “a small amount of cocaine” in her blood and that she died of “manual strangulation,” according to Peters’ complaint.
Peters says there was “considerable evidence” incriminating Donohue. Peters says she had called 911 on Donohue after he followed her home from a wedding that evening. She says he continued to follow her that night, threatened her and pulled on a knife on her boyfriend. She says she had told Donohue “to stay away from her kids.”
Police found blood on Donohue’s shirt and on a knife in his home after Crystallynn was murdered, according to the complaint. The Buffalo Police cold-case squad took another look at Crystallynn’s murder in 2007 after finding “striking similarities in the murders of Carol Reed, Crystallynn Girard and Joan Giambra,” Peters says.
“Donahue had been a suspect in the strangulation murder of Carol Reed in 1977, a murder in which the victim, much like Crystallyn Girard was found strangled, naked, and lying on her back, and which was never resolved by an arrest,” according to the complaint.
After Crystallynn was murdered, Peters says, prosecutors Clark and Marusak refused to have DNA samples from the crime scene or the blood from Donohue’s shirt tested. She says the DA and his assistant dismissed Donohue as a suspect after he passed a polygraph test, and gave Donohue “transactional immunity” to testify to a grand jury.
Peters says that prosecutors struck a deal with “two-time felon” Wayne Hudson – who was looking to avoid jail time for forgery – to testify that she had confessed to killing her daughter. Marusak and Clark then dismissed Hudson’s felony forgery charges, and allowed him to “plead to a misdemeanor,” the complaint states.
Peters claims that prosecutors also manipulated the testimony of a former boyfriend with whom she spoke on the day and evening of her daughter’s murder.
The defendants compiled a case against Peters alleging that she had been in a physical quarrel with her daughter, and managed to strangle the girl to death, drag her body to the bed, clean her fingerprints from the scene, put on own her coat and walk to a restaurant 5 minutes away, all within 14 minutes, and all while intoxicated, which was “physically impossible,” according to the complaint.
She adds that there were no fingernail marks on the girl’s neck, though Peters “indisputably had long fingernails.” Such pictures of the girl’s neck were not disclosed to Peters’ attorney until long after the trial, she says.
Though Peters did not have a motive and there was no physical evidence tying her to the scene, she was convicted of second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison; she served 13½ years before being exonerated.
“In September 2007, a cold case investigation re-examining trial evidence and physical evidence of the crime scene, revealed through forensic testing of bloodstains found on the wall of Crystallyn’s bedroom, her bedding, and inside her vagina, the presence of DNA of Mr. Donohue,” the complaint states.
Peters says that Clark and Marusak had tried to obstruct that cold-case investigation by preventing detectives from talking to their witnesses. She claims that Clark even pressured Hudson into signing “a statement reaffirming his prior statement and trial testimony,” in order to renew the statute of limitations for perjury.
Just before Peters was exonerated, in February 2008, Clark had autopsy records reviewed and “announced that two independent medical examiners had determined that Crystallyn Girard had not died from a homicidal act, but an accidental cocaine overdose,” according to complaint. Her death certificate was “changed accordingly.”
Peters claims the cops and prosecutors “were so outraged by what they considered to be neglectful parenting on the part of the plaintiff and by her lifestyle at the time of the murder that they became obsessed with the idea that plaintiff was a cold-blooded killer and would not even consider that the man who stalked plaintiff and her family the entire night, who had a motive, opportunity and no alibi after 5:00 a.m. could have killed Crystallyn Girard.”
Marusak went so far as to start a blog after Peters was exonerated, still insisting that she murdered her daughter, she says.
Peters demands $20 million in compensatory damages, and $10 million in punitive damages for civil rights violations and conspiracy.
She is represented by Steven Cohen with HoganWillig of Amherst, N.Y.