Dan Gristwood, a man who won a $7.5 million legal judgement for a wrongful conviction that put him behind bars for nine years, has died just four months after finally receiving the money that was meant to compensate him for his ruined life — a life that was destroyed by a false confession coerced by police in 1996.
Gristwood, who lived in Oswego County, New York, and died of lung cancer Saturday afternoon at a hospital in Syracuse, was just 48 years old. He had received his payout in September, after first winning a lawsuit against the state in May of 2013, only to have the state appeal what was then a $5.5 million award.
The wrongly convicted man, who was imprisoned from 1996 to 2005 after being found guilty of trying to kill his wife by smashing her head with a hammer as she slept, waited for 16 months for the appeal to be denied. By the time that happened, accrued interest raised his award to $7.5 million.
But the former machine repairman, who remained angry at the state troopers who forced him to sign a statement admitting the attack on his wife, died just four months after receiving the money.
“He didn’t get a chance to enjoy things as much as he wanted,” his brother Jerry Gristwood told The Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper. “But he did get a little bit of enjoyment.”
A violent criminal named Mastho Davis actually committed the crime and confessed in 2002 to attacking Gristwood’s wife, but a judge refused to take his confession. Davis confessed again the following year, but it took another two years for courts to accept his confession and let Dan Gristwood become a free man.
Gristwood came home from his job at about 3 am on January 12 of 1996, to discover his wife Christina in bed and covered with blood, which had splattered all over the walls and ceiling. He immediately called 911.
But though no evidence indicated that he had attacked his wife — despite the bloody mess is his home, Gristwood had no traces of blood on him — police did not believe his assertion that he had nothing to do with the horrifying attack.
They interrogated him for 16 hours in an overheated six-by-eight foot room inside a state police barracks in Oneida, New York, denying him even a tissue to blow his nose, which ran profusely from a head cold.
Finally, Gristwood broke down and signed a statement falsely confessing to the attempted murder of his wife. He was sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.
The wrongly convicted man placed $4.4 million of his $7.5 million award — almost everything he had left after paying his lawyers — into trust funds for his five children.