A war of words broke out Friday over the possible innocence of convicted killer Lynn M. DeJac, but this time the combatants were public officials who usually work together -- police detectives and prosecutors.
Three detectives from the Buffalo police Cold Case Squad told reporters they believe DeJac deserves a new trial, and one of them went further.
"In our opinion, after investigating this case and looking at all the available evidence, Lynn DeJac could not have killed her daughter," Detective Dennis Delano said.
"Any person on the street could read the facts available to us and tell that Lynn DeJac could not possibly have killed her daughter," Delano added. "In my mind, she's 100 percent innocent."
Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark also met with reporters Friday, after filing his motion opposing a new trial for DeJac. She was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1993 strangling of her 13-year-old daughter, Crystallynn Girard.
"They can't refute one single, solitary fact that the jury relied on to convict her," Clark said.
Granting DeJac a new trial might be the popular thing to do, and it might be a feel-good story, Clark said, but he thinks the contention that DeJac didn't kill her daughter is based on speculation, not fact.
After having to rebut fellow members of the law-enforcement community, Clark lashed out at the police detectives for going public with their opinions.
"It's absolutely inappropriate for them to express an opinion on the question of guilt or innocence, when a matter is still under litigation," he said. "They're now the Delphic oracles in deciding who's guilty or innocent?"
Detectives Delano, Mary Gugliuzza and Charles Aronica said that they based their conclusions largely on two points: that DeJac didn't have the time -- or the strength -- to subdue and kill her daughter and that the new evidence points to DeJac's former boyfriend, Dennis Donahue, as the killer.
Recent tests have shown that Donahue's DNA was found after the killing in three spots in Crystallynn's room: in blood spots on her bed and on the wall behind her, and on a vaginal swab taken from her body.
The three experienced homicide detectives claim the evidence shows that DeJac would have had to kill her daughter during an 11-minute window, from 11:44 to 11:55 p.m. on the night of Feb. 13, 1993.
So DeJac and her daughter, who had been allies during a previous 911 phone call that evening, would have had to engage in a violent struggle. Then DeJac would have had to strangle her daughter, which would have taken at least five minutes, before stripping her, washing her body down and going to a nearby bar.
All in 11 minutes.
"It just doesn't ring true," Delano said.
DeJac lacked the strength and body size to subdue her daughter for the five-plus minutes it would have taken to strangle her, Delano said. The mother also had long fingernails at the time, and no such scratches were found on her daughter's body.
The three detectives also seemed swayed heavily by the presence of Donahue's DNA in Crystallynn's room.
"How do you account for Crystallynn's blood mixed in with his DNA on the wall?" Aronica asked. "There's no legitimate reason why he would be in her bedroom, or in her body."
The detectives also discounted the notion that Donahue's DNA could have been in the girl's bedroom for days.
"The blood had to get there during the struggle with Crystallynn," Gugliuzza said. "It's on the wall, and some of it was on her leg. If it had happened the day before, don't you think she would have washed it off?"
Clark, though, emphasized repeatedly that he's looking for facts and hard evidence, not speculative theories.
The district attorney referred specifically to the new DNA evidence.
"How is that evidence that he [Donahue] killed her?" he asked. "You've got to show me that he was there when she was killed."
There's no question in Clark's mind that the new evidence, which wasn't available in DeJac's 1994 trial, raises legitimate issues in the case.
"The bottom line is, in light of the other facts, does it create a probability that the verdict would be different?" he asked. "They [DeJac's defenders] have not demonstrated to my satisfaction that the newly discovered evidence would create a probability that the verdict would be more favorable to her."
Clark added that everybody seems to want to forget about all the evidence and testimony that led to DeJac's conviction.
Specifically, he mentioned the one- to two-hour time lag between DeJac finding her daughter's body and her call to police. He also wonders why people are so quick to dismiss the barroom confession DeJac supposedly made to an acquaintance, containing information that wasn't known to the public.
Clark believes the three detectives are getting carried away with the emotional pull of the Anthony J. Capozzi case, following his exoneration on rapes actually committed by bike-path killer Altemio C. Sanchez.
"They saw all the human pathos that surrounded the Capozzi case, and now they want to transpose that to this and other cases," he said. "But they're not the same. You can't do it because it's a feel-good thing.
"You have to base it on the facts."