According to a November 9, 2022 court filing, the State of New Jersey settled a lawsuit filed by a man who had spent half his life in Rahway prison for a 1994 murder he did not commit. The lawsuit continues, however, against an Elizabeth police officer involved in the man’s investigation and arrest.
According his lawsuit, Jean L. Dorval was receiving a speeding ticket in South Carolina four hours prior to the time that 19-year-old Richard Jerry Myers was murdered in Elizabeth, New Jersey on March 20, 1994. Dorval said he was also able to prove that he checked into a Savannah, Georgia motel two hours prior to Myers’ murder and checked out the following morning.
Despite Dorval’s solid alibi, police charged him with Myers’ murder when he returned to New Jersey in April 1994. Dorval claimed that Detective John Furda of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and Officer Thomas Koczur of the Elizabeth Police Department “believing that [Dorval] was involved in the crime because of his Haitian ethnicity, and because he drove a car similar to the one seen at the shootings, persuaded and coerced [a man who was charged in Myers’ shooting] to falsely implicate [Dorval].”
In 1996, Dorval was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 70 years in prison with a 40 year parole disqualifier. After losing his appeals and petitions for post-conviction relief, Dorval “concluded that his situation was hopeless and discontinued those efforts,” according to the lawsuit.
Duquene Pierre, who was travelling with Dorval in South Carolina on March 20, 1994 and who was also convicted of Myers’ murder, continued his fight and ultimately won a new trial. On June 8, 2016, Pierre was acquitted of the charges and released from prison. After Pierre’s acquittal, Dorval sought to have his conviction reversed as well, but “two Acting Prosecutors wrongfully opposed the granting of this relief, which resulted in Dorval’s continued incarceration for crimes which he obviously did not commit,” according to the lawsuit. Almost two years after Pierre’s acquittal, Dorval’s conviction was overturned on April 30, 2018.
Pierre filed his own lawsuit, Federal Case No. Federal Case No. 2:18-cv-3443. Court records suggest that the state has settled with Pierre while the case remains pending against other defendants. I have submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for Pierre’s release or settlement agreement and will post it on this site when I receive it. Update: On August 6, 2019, Pierre settled his claims against the State and the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and its officials for $950,000. His claim against Koczur remains.
A third man, James Louis, who was also convicted of Myers’ murder and has continually claimed his innocence, was released in 2020 after serving 26 years in prison. Louis’ lawsuit, Case No. 2:22-cv-04490, is still pending before the United States District Court. Update: On June 16, 2023, United States District Court Judge Evelyn Padin dismissed Louis’ case against the “prosecutor defendants” based on them being entitled to qualified immunity. Louis’ case remains active against Koczur.
Dorval’s case is captioned Dorval v. State of New Jersey, et al, Case No. 2:20-cv-05997 and Dorval’s attorney was Donald A. DiGioia of Mountainside. The lawsuit and release are on-line here. The settlement released the State of New Jersey and Furda. Dorval’s lawsuit is still pending against Koczur.
None of Dorval’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the police officials named in the lawsuit. All that is known for sure is that the State of New Jersey and Detective Furda, or their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Dorval $2,000,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.