Inmate Enters Guilty Plea in ’89 Killing

March 15, 2007, The New York Times


Correction Appended

WHITE PLAINS, March 14 — A convicted killer serving a lengthy sentence pleaded guilty on Wednesday to another murder, for which one of the victim’s high school classmates was wrongfully imprisoned for 16 years.

The inmate, Steven Cunningham, entered his plea during a hearing in State Supreme Court here, six months after DNA evidence cleared Jeffrey Mark Deskovic, who was convicted of raping and murdering Angela Correa in Peekskill in 1989.

Investigators eventually ran DNA recovered from Ms. Correa’s body through a database of samples from convicted felons and matched it to that of Mr. Cunningham, 46, who was convicted of strangling his girlfriend’s sister several years after Ms. Correa’s murder. He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison, and is serving that sentence at the Eastern Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison.

The authorities confronted Mr. Cunningham with the results of the DNA testing two days after Mr. Deskovic’s release, on Sept. 19. He denied his role in the killing at first, investigators said, but eventually confessed to raping and strangling Ms. Correa, a 15-year-old sophomore at Peekskill High School.

“I’m a little bit stunned and shocked at the moment,” said Mr. Deskovic, 33.

“I just hope that this brings the victim’s family some peace,” he said.

Mr. Cunningham pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and felony murder, because the killing of Ms. Correa occurred during the commission of another crime, the rape. He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 2 and will receive another term of 20 years to life.

The clock on Mr. Cunningham’s new prison term will not begin ticking until 2013, when he becomes eligible for parole on his first conviction, said Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for Janet DiFiore, the Westchester County district attorney.

Mr. Deskovic was 16 when he was arrested. He confessed to Ms. Correa’s murder after six hours of interrogation. In November, Ms. DiFiore asked two former judges, a former prosecutor and a public defender to review the investigation into Ms. Correa’s killing.

Correction: March 17, 2007

Because of an editing error, an article on Thursday about a convicted killer pleading guilty to a second murder for which another man had served 16 years in prison before being exonerated omitted the given name of a spokesman for Janet DiFiore, the Westchester County district attorney. He is Lucian Chalfen.