- Associated Press - Friday, April 18, 2014

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) - A federal jury’s $36 million award to two men who spent 18 years in prison for a 1984 rape and murder that DNA testing later showed they did not commit was decried Friday by the teenage victim’s mother.

Concetta Napoli said she wants Nassau County officials to appeal Thursday’s verdict awarding the two men $1 million for each year they spent in prison, insisting the detectives had arrested the right suspects 30 years ago.

“As long as I got a breath in me, I will keep fighting,” the 72-year-old woman said in a telephone interview.

A spokeswoman for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said Friday the county would appeal the verdict.

Despite Napoli’s protests, an attorney for the two men said Friday that she had been misled by detectives, just as jurors were three decades ago, when they convicted John Restivo, Dennis Halstead and a third man in the rape and murder of Napoli’s 16-year-old daughter, Theresa Fusco. The third man, John Kogut, was not a party to the lawsuit.

Fusco, a popular teenager who dreamed of becoming a professional dancer, according to her mother, disappeared after leaving her part-time job at a Lynbrook roller-skating rink in November 1984. Her nude body was found weeks after the assault, buried under leaves in a wooded area near the rink. The three men were later convicted of murder, but DNA testing unavailable in the 1980s found that someone other than the three had committed the killing.

The charges against them were dropped in 2005.

Attorneys for the men blamed a now deceased detective, Joseph Volpe, and other police officers for either falsifying evidence or withholding evidence from prosecutors and the jury.

“When a promising initial lead reached a dead end, Volpe, desperate to solve this high-profile crime, planted hairs from the victim’s head in John Restivo’s van and deliberately hid evidence that proved their innocence,” said Nick Brustin, one of the attorneys for the men.

Testimony during the federal civil rights trial also showed that police had kept from both prosecutors and defense attorneys a report about a car stolen the night Fusco went missing. When the car was found several weeks later, the owner reported finding a pair of women’s jeans inside.

Fusco’s mother had told detectives her daughter was wearing jeans when she went missing, but police discarded the jeans and never had them examined, attorney Anna Benvenutti Hoffmann said.

She added that Restivo now wants county officials to investigate other possible misconduct cases that may have occurred in the 1980s.

“We hope that this verdict will cause the county to examine why and how Detective Volpe was able to get away with this extraordinarily serious misconduct, and re-evaluate its policies to insure this tragedy happens to no one else,” Hoffmann said.

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