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John KOGUT

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
Classification: Murderer ?
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 1 ?
Date of murder: November 10, 1984
Date of arrest: March 26, 1985
Date of birth: 1964
Victim profile: Theresa Fusco (female, 16)
Method of murder: Ligature strangulation
Location: Long Island, New York, USA
Status: Sentenced to 31.5 years to life in prison on May 1986. Exonerated December 21, 2005
 
 

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In 1984 and early 1985, Long Island was the scene of several rapes and murders aimed at teenage girls, with evidence suggesting that the crimes had been committed by a mobile group including three or more young men. 

Police have solved one case, with indications that the perpetrators -- and unknown accomplices -- may be responsible for other slayings in the area. New evidence, secured by newsman Maury Terry, further indicates the possible involvement of a devil-worship cult with ties to other lethal groups in New York City and in California.

The first Long Island victim was 15-year-old Kelly Morrissey, who vanished on the short walk home from a popular teenage hangout, on June 12, 1984. 

Five months later, on November 11, a friend of the missing girl -- Theresa Fusco -- was forced into a van after leaving a skating rink in Lynbrook, one mile from the spot where Morrissey disappeared. Fusco's body, beaten, strangled, and raped by at least three men, was found on December 5, realizing the worst fears of her family and friends.

John Kogut, a 21-year-old high school dropout and unemployed landscaper, was jailed on charges of burglary and disorderly conduct when police began asking him questions about the Fusco homicide. Cracking under interrogation, he confessed to the crime, naming two accomplices, and was formally charged with the murder on March 26, 1985. 

Kelly Morrissey was still missing, but her diary contained entries describing at least one date with Kogut prior to her disappearance. Eight hours after the announcement of Kogut's arrest, I9-year-old Jacqueline Martarella was reported missing from Oceanside, a short four miles from the scene of Theresa Fusco's abduction.

Kogut was obviously innocent in that case, but his alleged accomplices were still at large, and police were already collecting evidence of Kogut's alleged participation in a Satanic cult that favored the rape of young virgins as a form of "sacrifice." Kogut's friends informed police that he had once burned the mark of an inverted cross on his arm, and acquaintances of Theresa Fusco recalled her discussions of a Satanic coven reportedly active in the Long Beach-Oceanside area. 

On April 22, Martarella's raped and strangled corpse was found beside a golf course at Lawrence, Long Island. Visiting the scene, journalist Maury Terry reported discovery of a "cult sign" linked with Satanists in Queens and Yonkers, who allegedly participated in the infamous "Son of Sam" murders in 1976 and '77. Not far from the dump site, searchers discovered an abandoned root cellar, its walls festooned with cult symbols and slogans. 

Outside, some articles of clothing were found, described by Jacqueline Martarella's parents as "very similar" to items she wore on the night of her disappearance. John Kogut steadfastly refused to discuss the cult angle, while freely admitting his role in the rape and strangulation of Theresa Fusco. After she was raped, he said, the girl had threatened to inform police, whereupon one of Kogut's associates handed him a rope, with instructions to "Do what you gotta do." 

On May 9, 1985, authorities went public with their theory that a gang of twelve associates was linked with three known murders and at least four rapes in which the victims had survived. By June 21, suspects John Restivo, 26, and Dennis Halstead, 30, were in custody on charges of first-degree rape and second-degree murder in the Fusco case.

Kogut was convicted and sentenced to life in May 1986, with Restivo and Halstead joining him later that year. (Prior to Kogut's trial, a teenage friend -- Bob Fletcher -- who had testified to Kogut's Satanism and involvement in pornography "committed suicide" in Rosedale, Queens. Police have been unable to explain the disappearance of the weapon that he used to shoot himself.)

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers

 
 

John Cogut

Incident Date: 11/10/84

Jurisdiction: NY

Charge: Murder, Rape

Conviction: Murder, Rape

Sentence: 31.5 Years

Year of Conviction: 1986

Exoneration Date: 12/21/05

Sentence Served: 17 Years

Real perpetrator found? Not Yet

Contributing Causes: Unreliable/Limited Science, False Confessions / Admissions, Forensic Science Misconduct, Informants/Snitches

*****

On December 21, 2005, Nassau County Judge Victor M. Ort found John Kogut not guilty of the 1984 rape and murder of a 16 year old girl. Kogut was charged with the crime in 1985 and convicted in 1986. He was sentenced to 31.5 years to life in prison.

Kogut’s 1986 trial was separate from that of Dennis Halstead and John Restivo, who were also tried and convicted of rape and murder, on the theory that the three men had acted together in abducting, raping, and killing the victim.

It took almost two decades for Kogut to win a retrial after a series of postconviction DNA tests excluded all three men as the rapists and proved that semen from the victim’s body had come from unknown assailant.

The Crime

On November 10, 1984, the victim, a 16-year-old girl disappeared after leaving her job at a roller rink at 9:45 p.m. On December 5, 1984, her body was found, naked, in a wooded area of Lynbrook, New York. The body had been covered by leaves and debris and was located a short distance from the roller rink.

The autopsy revealed that the victim had died as a result of ligature strangulation. Vaginal swabs taken during the autopsy revealed the presence of semen and spermatozoa - evidence that she had been sexually assaulted. However, serology tests to determine the semen donor’s blood type were never performed.

The Nassau County Police Department was under enormous pressure to solve this crime, particularly since there had been several other disappearances of young girls in the area in recent years. Kogut, Halstead, and Restivo were all initially interrogated as part of an investigation into the disappearance of another girl, before the police changed their focus to this rape and murder.

The Confession

After 3 polygraph examinations, detectives began to focus on Kogut as a suspect in the rape and murder. Kogut, though he was told that he failed the polygraph, continued to maintain his innocence. After nearly 18 hours of interrogation, however, the police produced a confession from Kogut.

The confession was hand written by the interrogating officer for Kogut’s signature, allegedly after five other versions of the confession that were never transcribed. Kogut was then taken to the crime scene. He could not point the police to any evidence from the crime that was missing, such as the victim’s clothes, jewelry, or murder weapon. The next day, the confession was recorded on video tape. It contained no details that were not previously known by law enforcement.

According to the confession, Restivo, Halstead, and Kogut were all in Restivo’s van. They approached the victim, who was on foot, and she entered the van voluntarily. When the victim demanded to be let out of the van, she was stopped, stripped, and raped by Halstead and Restivo. They drove to a cemetery, where the victim was taken out of the van and Kogut strangled her with a piece of rope. The victim’s body was then rolled into a blanket and dumped in another location.

Based on the confession, investigators procured a warrant to search Restivo’s van. They claimed they found two hairs in the van that were microscopically similar to the victim’s, including indications of chemical treatment.

The Trials

At trial, prosecutors argued that the hairs found in Restivo’s van provided corroboration of the confession, and all three men were tried for rape and murder. All three men denied having anything to do with the abduction, rape, or murder and offered separate alibi defenses.

Prosecutors also relied on snitch testimony against all three men. Kogut was convicted in May 1986 and was sentenced to 31.5 years to life. Restivo and Halstead were convicted in November 1986 and were then sentenced to 33 1/3 years to life.

Biological Evidence and Post-Conviction

Centurion Ministries began working on behalf of all three defendants in 1994. The Innocence Project began working on Restivo’s case in 1997. In the postconviction proceedings that secured the defendants’ release, Kogut was represented by Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering and Halstead was represented by Pace Law School’s Postconviction Clinic.

DNA testing in this case went through many rounds over a period of ten years, despite repeated exclusions of all three men. The prosecution initially argued that the samples tested (vaginal slides) were not the “best” samples available and could have failed to detect semen from the defendants present on the original swabs.

In 2003, however, the defense team obtained property records from the Police Department which led to the discovery of an intact vaginal swab that had never been tested. STR testing on the spermatozoa on the vaginal swab matched the single unknown male profile from the prior testing and again excluded all three men.

In addition, defense attorneys also secured a new affidavit from former Det. Nicholas Petraco, who had testified for the state in 1986 regarding the hairs allegedly found in Restivo’s van. Det. Petraco concluded, based on 20 years of research and expertise, that the hairs displayed “post-mortem root banding,” a hallmark of decomposition that only occurs while hairs are attached to a corpse that has been dead for at least 8 hours, if not days or weeks.

The banding on these hairs was suspiciously similar to those found on dozens of hairs taken from the autopsy that had been in unsealed envelopes in a Police Department laboratory for months. Because the victim was only alleged to have been in the van for a few minutes after death, he concluded, the hairs could not have been shed during that time, and were instead autopsy hairs that were commingled with others from the van – whether through police negligence or misconduct.

Based on these results, all three convictions were vacated in June 2003 and all three defendants were released. John Kogut, however, faced re-trial, based largely on his confession.

At trial, the prosecution sought to rebut the DNA evidence by arguing that the victim, who was said by her mother and best friend to be a virgin, had consensual sex with an unknown male prior to her rape and murder. Kogut’s lawyer argued that the confession was false, and won a motion to have expert testimony on false confessions admitted for the first time in New York State.

After a three month bench trial, Judge Ort found Kogut not guilty on all counts. His verdict included specific findings that numerous aspects of the confession were contradicted by DNA and other forensic evidence, and that that the decomposed hairs from the victim were not shed by her in Restivo’s van.

The Innocence Poject

 

 
 
 
 
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