A New York man who spent 16 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit is celebrating a new milestone in his life as an exonerated man: a master's degree in criminal justice.
Jeffrey Deskovic received his degree from John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Tuesday.
"I've come so far, between there and now, and the emotions kind of got the better of me," he said.
Deskovic was 16 when he was convicted of raping and murdering a teenage girl in Peekskill, despite the fact that the DNA didn't match. But police got him to confess.
"They wore me down after interrogating me for seven and a half hours," said Deskovic. "I didn't have an attorney present, my parents didn't know where I was, I wasn't given anything to eat."
While in prison, Deskovic fought for his freedom with the help of The Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people. In 2006, he was freed, but getting used to normal life proved difficult.
So Deskovic decided to return to school, and in addition to getting his master's, he also started the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice to help other innocent people get out of prison.
Thanks to the foundation, William Lopez was released from prison in January after serving more than 23 years for a murder he didn't commit.
Lopez now regards Deskovic as an inspiration.
"He was also incarcerated for so many years, and to have achieved this -- it's extraordinary," he said.
Deskovic has received a more than $8 million settlement, some of which was used to establish the foundation. But with a dozen or so active cases, and another 800-plus applications to consider, he's always searching for grants and donations.
"I need to feel like I'm making some sort of a difference so I can make some sense out of what happened to me," he said.