A retrial has begun in the harrowing case of the 1994 rape and murder of 12-year-old Josette Wright in New York’s Hudson River Valley. In 1997, two men who’d been teenagers at the time of the crime were convicted in separate trials. They were each sentenced to 25 years to life, and both served at least 20 years in prison. As the 2021 Rolling Stone feature “The Devil You Know” exposed, however, there were major issues with the investigation, including police failing to question a known repeat sex offender in the area. 

In 2016, one of the men, Anthony DiPippo, was acquitted at retrial and won settlements totalling about $15 million from Putnam County and New York State. Now, the second man, Andrew Krivak, is facing a jury for the second time, hoping to be exonerated. 

Putnam District Attorney Robert Tendy will make the same argument as the prosecution did in 1997: that Krivak and DiPippo tied up, raped, and suffocated Wright in the back of Krivak’s dad’s van, then dumped her body in the woods. As evidence, he will cite Krivak’s confession, testimony from a woman who claimed she was in the van and witnessed the crime, and the discovery of two of Wright’s rings in the van. As the trial began Wednesday, he called this evidence “overwhelming” and told the jury Krivak was “unequivocally and unquestionably” responsible for Wright’s death on Oct. 3, 1994.

Defense lawyers Oscar Michelen and Karen Newirth will argue that Krivak’s confession was coerced, that the supposed eyewitness shaped her story according to what investigators told her to avoid her own prosecution, and that the rings did not belong to Josette — even according to her own mother. They will make the case that Howard Gombert — a convicted sex offender who witnesses said gave Josette a ride shortly before her disappearance and was known to tie up and gag his victims — killed her. 

Further, they believe the prosecution has the date of the crime wrong. As Rolling Stone reported, two witnesses signed sworn statements in 1994 saying they’d seen Josette at local malls over Columbus Day Weekend, after the date prosecutors said she was killed. Defense attorneys say investigators pressured the witnesses to change their statements.

In October 1994, Josette went missing from her hometown of Carmel, New York. Her case languished until more than a year later, in November 1995, when a hunter came across Josette’s skeletal remains in the woods of nearby Patterson. Her hands were bound behind her back, and she’d been gagged with her underwear. 

In July 1996, Krivak and Dipippo were arrested. Krivak’s lawyer Michelen accused the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department of having tunnel vision once they’d settled on the two teens as their suspects. He argued that the arrest happened only after another teen — hoping to avoid punishment for an unrelated crime — told officers he’d heard Krivak and Dipippo talking about a body found in the woods. Around the same time, one of Gombert’s accusers told police Gombert had given Josette a ride shortly before she went missing, but, according to reporting by Rolling Stone, the police never interviewed him. Gombert, reached in 2021 in prison for comment, denied killing Josette, although he admitted to meeting her once.

The prosecution’s star witness, Denise Rose, who claimed Krivak and Dipippo picked her up to hang out that night, with Josette already in the van. When Rose asked to be taken home, she claimed, they instead parked down a street somewhere and attacked Josette while Rose was still in the car. According to Rolling Stone’s prior reporting, Rose’s father said she’d been interrogated for six hours, and she later admitted investigators had fed her information — including the date and location of the murder, showed her crime-scene photos, and threatened to arrest her if she “didn’t get her story straight.”

DiPippo’s conviction was first overturned in 2011, but he was convicted again in 2012. At his third trial in 2016, multiple accusers of Gombert’s testified, and DiPippo was acquitted. As Rolling Stone reported, in a deposition, one woman described how Gombert lured her into a relationship when she was 12 and he was 16. “He just was giving me things I didn’t have, maybe cigarettes and alcohol,” she said. They began having sexual encounters where he bound and raped her. He would shove her panties in her mouth during these attacks, she said. Another woman who knew Gombert reported being accosted on the street and raped — her panties shoved in her mouth — by a man in a mask who she said looked like Gombert. That attack occurred just a few months before Josette’s disappearance. In 2021, Gombert denied all allegations against him Rolling Stone.

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At the 2016 trial, multiple witnesses testified that they’d been bullied into giving false statements. “I decided to go along with the dirty game they were playing,” one of them testified. “It was almost like a badly written movie . . . where somebody said, ‘You’re going to tell us what we want to know, whether you like it or not.’ ”

In 2019, Krivak was granted a new trial based on some of the same evidence related to Gombert that led to DiPippo’s acquittal. Since October 2020, he has been on house arrest awaiting retrial. He spoke to a local news outlet on Wednesday, before the trial began. “I feel good, confident in the system,” he said.

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