Men Spend 17 Years in Jail Based on Apparent False Confession

Theresa Fusco, a 16-year-old who aspired to be a ballerina, was last seen in November 1984, leaving her job at a Long Island roller-skating rink.

Her disappearance hit the town of Lynbrook, N.Y., hard, especially when three local men were charged with her rape and murder. The three men were eventually sentenced to 33 years to life in prison, which was based in large part on one of the suspect's confession to police.

But after the men had spent nearly 18 years behind bars, new DNA evidence cleared them. So why would an innocent man confess to a crime he didn't commit? The fact is, false confessions aren't as unusual as people might think. According to the Innocence Project, about one-fifth of all post-conviction DNA exonerations involve false confessions

'It Was Just a Blur'

Theresa was the second teenager to disappear from the quiet, suburban area in less than a year, and the police were under tremendous pressure to find whomever was responsible. For days, there were no clues, not a trace of Theresa anywhere.

But then on Dec. 5, 1984, two boys were playing near train tracks in a wooded area of town when they stumbled upon a pile of leaves covering a naked body. It was Theresa, who had been raped, strangled and dumped two blocks from her home. DNA evidence also suggested she had been raped.

Police searched frantically for clues, and they eventually set their sights on Dennis Halstead, 31, a local contractor and father of two girls.

The police tracked down some of Halstead's friends, including John Restivo, the owner of a moving company, and John Kogut, a 21-year-old landscaper. Kogut, who'd spent most of his life in the foster care system, volunteered to speak to police at the end of a long day on the job.

When he went to the police station, Kogut said he was locked in a small, dark interrogation room. He was given no food, only coffee and cigarettes, and he said that when he wanted to leave, he was told to sit down.

Kogut was given a lie detector test and said he was told by police that he failed. The police, he said, continued to ratchet up the pressure, and his denials were met with hostile disbelief.

Kogut said the cops began to describe Fusco's murder in excruciating detail, repeating detail after detail, over and over -- for hours

"And it just went on and on and came to the point where it was just a blur," he said.

The police told him he might not remember committing such a gruesome crime because he probably blacked out, said Kogut.

His lawyer, Paul Casteleiro, says it was too much for the young man with a diffcult past. "He was a foster kid. He had nothing. He had no family. He had nobody looking out for him," Casteleiro said.

Police also told the 21-year-old that they had scientific evidence pointing to his guilt. Kogut said he never left the room, never slept nor spoke to anyone but his interrogators.

He told "Primetime" that at the time he was overtaken by a feeling of hopelessness. "I guess it's just like, they're not letting you go. They're not letting you go until you get what you want," he said.

Almost 18 Years in Jail

Kogut says after 18 hours of interrogation and 30 hours with no sleep, he was put in front of a video camera, where he confessed to strangling Theresa: "I wrapped it around her neck twice and then I tightened it like this and then her body went limp."

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