NJ man freed after murder convictions overturned
BRIDGETON, N.J. — After spending more than 20 years in prison for two murders he repeatedly denied committing, Paul Kamienski spoke Tuesday as a man freed under unusual circumstances.
Last month, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia overturned his 1988 convictions and double life sentence in the murders of a Florida couple in 1983 in what prosecutors described as a drug deal gone bad. The court wrote that the evidence presented at trial was not sufficient to warrant a verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Such reversals, in which no new evidence is presented, are considered extremely rare.
Kamienski, 61, was released from South Woods State Prison on Tuesday afternoon. Standing across the street from the prison, he spoke softly and fought to hold back his emotions. He expressed thanks for the friends who stood by him during the lengthy appeal process and said he would take time to let it all sink in.
“It’s hard to put into words how I feel,” the lanky Kamienski said. “I’m just going to try and get my life back together, do some thinking, do some unwinding.”
Prosecutors contended Kamienski helped two friends dispose of the bodies of Barbara and Henry DeTournay after one of the friends, Joseph Marzeno, shot the couple during a 1983 robbery involving $150,000 worth of cocaine. Their bodies were dumped in New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay and discovered several days later.
Marzeno, Kamienski and a third man were convicted of the murders, but the trial judge later threw out Kamienski’s conviction for a lack of evidence. A state appeals court reinstated the conviction, however, and New Jersey’s Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Enter Timothy McInnis, a lawyer who heard about Kamienski’s case at a holiday party in New York in the late 1990s and decided to take it on.
McInnis put the evidence under a microscope and found inconsistencies in crucial testimony by Donna Duckworth, an ex-girlfriend of Kamienski, as well as other problems with the state’s case.
McInnis argued that none of the evidence put Kamienski at the scene before, during or after the shootings.
“The state has an obligation to do justice,” McInnis said Tuesday. “They’ve known from the beginning that he had nothing to do with these murders.”
Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford said her office will seek to have Kamienski’s convictions reinstated.
“Just as Mr. Kamienski’s lawyers had an obligation to pursue every avenue of appeal, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office is duty bound to exhaust all avenues of review,” she said in a statement. “To that extent, we have filed the appropriate papers seeking a reconsideration of the decision of the Court of Appeals, and if necessary, an application for review by the United States Supreme Court.”
Kamienski said his release can send a message to other inmates.
“It’s given hope to a lot of guys in there,” he said. “One thing everybody forgets is that there are innocent people in there along with people who are guilty. I don’t know what good can come of this, but I’m going to try and get some positives out of this whole situation.”