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Jury awards $40M in false prosecution case after man spent over 16 years in prison

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WHITE PLAINS, New York — A jury in Westchester County on Thursday awarded $40 million to a man who spent over 16 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, although lawyers said the award will be limited to $10 million under the terms of a pre-trial agreement.

The White Plains jury found in favor of Jeffrey Deskovic, 40, who had sued a former Putnam County detective and Putnam County, among others.

His lawyer, Nick Brustin, said settlements before trial with other defendants, including Peekskill and Westchester counties, had already produced about $15 million. He said his client used some of the money to start a foundation to help others who were wrongfully convicted.

Deskovic was first arrested at age 16, charged with raping and killing a Peekskill High School classmate in November 1989. Deskovic was freed in 2006, exonerated after DNA evidence proved another man committed the crimes.

Stephen Wellinghorst, a lawyer for the defendants, said a deal before trial will limit damages to $10 million and that $6 million had already been turned over. He said there would be no appeal.

Brustin said his client broke down emotionally after the verdict and hugged one of the jurors.

"He was very emotional, very grateful," he said.

Brustin said Deskovic's suffering in a maximum-security prison was extraordinary because he was labeled a child rapist.

"Prison was an incredibly isolating, lonely, terrifying experience for him," he said.

The lawyer said starting his own foundation has been therapeutic for him.

"He's really an amazing guy now. It's what drives him," he said. "At the same time, he has tons of other problems, socially and personally. He's had a very tough time."

Brustin said Deskovic suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and depressive disorder, along with related issues.

The lawyer said his client was celebrating the verdict.

"He's with friends tonight. He's a little overwhelmed," Brustin said.

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