A 45-year-old Carmel, N.Y., man released from prison in 2020 after serving more than two decades behind bars in the 1994 rape and murder of 12-year-old Josette Wright was acquitted of the crime following a retrial personally prosecuted by the local district attorney.
Putnam County District Attorney Robert Tendy looked on Monday as a jury acquitted Andrew Krivak. The top prosecutor had reportedly relied on the theory that Krivak and previously acquitted co-defendant Anthony DiPippo gagged, raped, and killed Wright in the woods. The child victim was not found until November 1995, more than a year after she was first reported missing by her mother, NBC New York reported. Thereafter, Krivak and DiPippo, described in reports as the former’s “best friend,” were charged and convicted in the case.
As the Exoneration Project noted in October 2020, Krivak walked out of prison after serving 24 years behind bars. The group, affiliated with Krivak’s attorney Karen Newirth, said that Krivak was wrongfully convicted based on a false and coerced (but signed) confession. The group also asserted that evidence revealed a link to convicted sex offender Howard Gombert.
Those arguments proved successful at trial.
“[Krivak’s] conviction was vacated on May 9, 2019 in light of newly discovered evidence pointing to Howard Gombert as the true and lone perpetrator. Prosecutors appealed, and about a month ago, the Appellate Court affirmed the vacatur. Although prosecutors agreed to a bail package for Mr. Krivak to be released, they have indicated they plan to seek another appeal and to re-try him,” the Exoneration Project said at the time, correctly foreshadowing prosecutors’ bid for a retrial.
The group also emphasized that Anthony DiPippo was exonerated four years before Krivak walked free. DiPippo went on to win a settlement from the county worth upwards of $12 million, which angered both the DA and Josette Wright’s mother Susan Wright.
“It’s one injustice piled onto another,” Wright reportedly told the Rockland/Westchester Journal News in 2020. “This guy who savagely murdered my 12-year-old daughter, he’s getting a million dollars for every single year of her life.”
According to the Marshall Project, a news organization focused on criminal justice reform in the U.S., investigators did initially focus on Gombert. Then, an ex-girlfriend of Anthony DiPippo’s, identified elsewhere as Denise Rose, claimed to have witnessed the rape and murder firsthand:
The men were convicted in the rape and murder of Josette Wright, 12, who first went missing in 1994; a hunter discovered her remains in the woods 13 months later. Police were initially on the trail of Howard Gombert, a local man who knew Josette and had been accused by several girls of sexual assault. But detectives turned their focus to DiPippo and Krivak, two young men who had been arrested before for lower-level crimes. Cops brought in several of their friends to interrogate. One witness, an ex-girlfriend of DiPippo’s, said she had seen the two rape the young girl in their van and suffocate her. Another two witnesses said they saw the teens with the girl at a gas station the night prosecutors say she was murdered. Andrew Krivak at Elmira Correctional Facility in Elmira, N.Y., in 2019.
There’s one key difference between Krivak and DiPippo’s situation: Krivak confessed. After he was accused, he was interrogated by the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department. Krivak was 18 and alone. He asked to take a polygraph test, and an officer told him that he had failed, according to court filings by Krivak’s attorneys. After seven hours of questioning, Krivak signed a confession written by the police, according to the petition. The details were notably similar to the statements made by the cops’ lead witness.
The defense alleged that investigators pressured the witness into making her claim and coerced Krivak’s confession.
Krivak’s co-defendant DiPippo left prison in 2016 after a third trial scrutinized the witness’ claims and raised reasonable doubt by pointing to Gombert.
Fast forward to 2023, and Andrew Krivak is also free. Still, DiPippo told NBC New York that he viewed Krivak’s acquittal as a “full exoneration of the both of us.”
The district attorney who personally prosecuted the case said he respects the jury’s verdict.
“The jurors have made their decision and we must respect it,” DA Tendy said in a statement to Law&Crime. “This is the cornerstone of our legal system.”
A memorial for Josette Wright said she was a “sparkly little girl” and in the seventh grade when she was murdered.
“She was an artistic, athletic youngster who would have probably been a teacher,” the memorial said. “According to her mother, Josette’s enthusiasm could overcome the population.”
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