After eight years and four months of imprisonment, William Haughey, 44, was exonerated of a wrongful arson indictment, discussed at a press conference today at The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice office in the Bronx.
A Putnam County jury had found Haughey guilty in 2008 of setting fire to Smalley’s Inn in March of 2007. The final judgment order vacating Haughey’s conviction was issued on Monday, after Putnam County District Attorney Robert Tendy and his Conviction Review Unit found the original case’s evidence to be legally insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Haughey was initially freed on bail on May 9.
“I’m blessed. I feel very excited,” says Haughey. “I think this is definitely a step in the right direction. If I can assist Deskovic in any way, I will.”
Tendy became involved with the case when Haughey reached out to him while he ran for district attorney. According to Deskovic, the relationship between the Foundation, Tendy, and Haughey was open, beneficial, and “non-adversarial.”
“[Tendy] was willing to look into and overturn the conviction, which really shows his dedication to being an administer of justice,” says Deskovic.
After reviewing the evidence with Haughey’s and the Foundation’s legal team, Tendy came to the conclusion that there was no arson, but the cause of the fire was a minor electrical incident. According to Deskovic, the original investigation was limited to the area around the inn’s bathroom, where Haughey was seen lifting ceiling tiles to search for the fire. Tendy’s review unit concluded that the conviction could not stand, and that Haughey was arrested and imprisoned for attempting to put out the fire.
The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation is committed to raising public awareness of wrongful convictions, and while Deskovic acknowledges that, while there were 149 exonerations in 2015, there are still many more innocent people in prison—a cause Haughey now aims to support.
To those currently fighting for their own exoneration, Haughey adds, “Keep your chin up and keep fighting the good fight.”