Peter Dombrowski

At about 1:30 a.m. on June 18, 1984, as employees at Demos Restaurant in Buffalo, New York were closing the bar, a man wearing a trench coat and baseball cap emerged from the darkened banquet room with a pistol in his hand. The robber forced the night manager to hand over money from the cash register and the safe, then forced him into a walk-in cooler and drove off in the night manager’s car.

Later that day, the car was found four blocks from the residence of 37-year-old Peter Dombrowski, who the investigating detective knew because they had grown up together in Buffalo and because Dombrowski had been convicted of robberies on two prior occasions.

On June 19, the police put a photograph of Dombrowski into a photographic lineup and the night manager as well as a female bartender both identified Dombrowski as the robber. Dombrowski was arrested that day and charged with armed robbery, criminal use of a firearm and auto theft.

Dombrowski went on trial in Erie County Supreme Court in May 1985. The night manager and the bartender both identified Dombrowski as the robber. They said he was shabbily dressed, unshaven and his hair was long and unkempt. Both said that Dombrowski came into the tavern earlier in the evening and drank some beers. They said they had not seen him before that night.

Catherine Peluso, Dombrowski’s common-law wife and mother of their daughter, testified that June 17, 1984 was Father’s Day. She and Dombrowski spent the holiday by going out to for a Father’s Day dinner and visiting friends and were home by 9:30 p.m. She said they went to bed around 11:45 p.m.

Peluso, as well as some of the friends the couple visited that day, testified that Dombrowski was clean-shaven except for his customary mustache. All agreed that most days, Dombrowski was not clean-shaven and was generally unkempt because he worked for a vehicle leasing business six days a week repairing motors, changing tires and doing other automotive work.

On May 16, 1985, a jury convicted Dombrowski on all counts. He was sentenced to 9 to 18 years in prison.

In July 1990, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. The court held that Dombrowski’s attorney had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to request that the prosecution turn over evidence favorable to Dombrowski. As a result, the defense did not know that police had dusted beer bottles that the robber had been served and that some fingerprints were obtained, but none belonged to Dombrowski. The court also held that the prosecution had engaged in improper questioning and argument that prejudiced the jury.

On September 30, 1990, Dombrowski was released from prison and on October 22, 1990, a judge dismissed the charges. Dombrowski filed a claim for damages in the New York Court of Claims. Before the claim was decided, Dombrowski was killed in November 1991 by a hit and run driver. The claim was later denied.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/10/2014

 

State:New York
County:Erie
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:Theft, Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1984
Convicted:1985
Exonerated:1990
Sentence:9 to 18 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age:37
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No