Richard DiGuglielmo, an NYPD police officer, was convicted of depraved indifference murder in 1996 and spent 11 years in prison before his conviction was overturned in 2008. A lower court judge found that police had falsified evidence and coerced witnesses to change their statements that Richard had shot a man in self defense. The New York State Court of Appeals, a mere 20 months after DiGuglielmo was released, ruled in a shocking and wrongheaded decision to affirm the appellate court which had returned DiGuglielmo to prison.
At his first trial, Richard was acquitted of murder and assault but convicted of depraved indifference murder. In order to constitute depraved indifference, a defendant must be so morally deficient as to warrant the same criminal liability as that which the law imposes upon a person who intentionally commits a crime. According to the same Court of Appeals which sent Richard back to prison, the charge of depraved indifference can no longer be used along with a charge of intentional murder. Unfortunately for Richard, the decision which made depraved indifference illegitimate did not apply retroactively and therefore could still be used in his case, since the original hearing occurred 9 years earlier. His sentence was 20 years to life in prison which is unheard of for a case of self defense. (Read more on the case)
The Court of Appeals in a two paragraph decision refused to elaborate on any of the details of the DiGuglielmo case. The questions of his innocence, the reasons the lower court judge freed him a few years earlier, and the efficacy of the charge of depraved indifference all remain unanswered. Few of the original jurors understood the significance of a charge of depraved indifference to human life.
Post conviction innocence cases have few safe havens. Prosecutors will seek to obtain a conviction using any method at their disposal including obtaining false confessions, intimidating witnesses, even hiding evidence from the defendant. They will even seek to maintain that conviction without regard to justice.
It is up to the judiciary to sort the wheat from the chaff. In Richard Diguglielmo”s case, they just walked away and returned an innocent man to prison.