2006: Hornoff was reinstated as a Warwick police detective and has since retired. The compensation was split with his ex-wife, he re-married and has another daugther.
I hope this letter finds you all safe and well. My name is Jeffrey Scott Hornoff. I am a detective with the Warwick, Rhode Island police department, and I used to be in favor of the death penalty; that is until I was charged, tried and convicted of first degree murder.
If Rhode Island had the death penalty I'd have been on it. Instead I was sentenced to life in prison. After six years, four months and eighteen days (on November 6, 2002) I was freed when the one responsible, filled with remorse and hauntings, came forward and confessed.
Having experienced both sides of the fence, I now have a new path. I intend to speak out about our judicial system and how innocent people are wrongfully imprisoned every day. I hope to help at least one other innocent see freedom. Perhaps I can do the most good at law/journalism schools and police academies, and other organizations, educating and informing future police officers, prosecutors and judges, but I also feel the need to inform everyone of just how tenuous our freedoms are. If it could happen to me - a white, upper-middle class, 40-year-old cop, it can happen to you. If you're interested in my speaking with your organization please contact me.
April, 2003: How are you? I'm doing okay. I just wanted to let you know that Warwick Mayor Scott Avedesian has decided that I am not entitled to my backpay, benefits or pension. I'm stunned. I had been told that he was fair, compassionate and reasonable; and I was only asking for my backpay and pension, not even seeking compensation for legal fees, the loss of my and my Mom's homes and more. I guess my trials aren't over. I'd really appreciate it if you and those in your organization would consider writing letters to the mayor and to the local media (The Warwick Beacon and The Providence Journal). I thought my trials were over.
Below are some of the news reports regarding the Hornoff case. To set the record straight, Scott Hornoff would like people to know:
Jeffrey Scott Hornoff's 1996 conviction of murdering a women he had an affair with was based solely on specious circumstantial evidence that made him appear guilty. Namely, in an effort to conceal the affair from his wife he initially lied to police about knowing the murdered woman, After serving 6½ years of a life sentence, he was freed five days after the real killer confessed on November 1, 2002.
In the summer of 1989, 27-year-old Warwick, Rhode Island police officer Jeffrey Scott Hornoff began an affair with 29-year-old Victoria Cushman. Married with an infant child, Hornoff decided after a few months to break it off with her. She didn't take kindly to his decision, since she took their relationship much more seriously than he did. She had even told several people at the sporting goods store where she worked that she thought he was going to leave his wife for her. On August 11, 1989, two days after telling co-workers that Hornoff wanted to end the affair, Victoria Cushman didn't show up for work. Several of them went to her apartment and found her lying in a pool of blood. She had been bludgeoned to death with a 17-pound fire extinguisher that was found near her.
Suspicion that Hornoff was her killer was fueled when an unmailed letter to him was found in her apartment. In the letter she refused to accept he was ending their romance and demanded that he leave his wife. Hornoff cemented the appearance of his guilt when in an effort to conceal the affair from his wife, he denied knowing Victoria Cushman when police who knew about the letter - first questioned him about her death.
However, the appearance of his guilt was counteracted by his seemingly rock solid alibi of being at a party with his wife and friends on the night of Victoria Cushman's murder.
Since there was no physical evidence of any kind or any witnesses linking him to the murder, and the Rhode Island State Patrol had to take over the murder investigation when fellow members of the Warwick Police Department were accused of interfering with the investigation, Jeffrey Scott Hornoff wasn't charged with Victoria Cushman's murder until more than five years after her death. However, he had been painted with a black brush for so long, that as Warwick City Councilman Carlo Pisturo said recently, "By then it was almost common knowledge that Scott had killed the girl. All indications were that he was guilty and that the cops had covered for him."
Hornoff's ace in the hole at his trial was his alibi of being at a party with many other people when Victoria Cushman was murdered. The prosecution, however, casually brushed that aside. It claimed he slipped away, murdered her, and returned to the party without anyone noticing his absence or any indication from his clothing that one would expect to be visible if he had just committed a brutal and messy murder with a fire extinguisher. The unmailed threatening letter was presented as circumstantial evidence of Hornoff's motive, and his initial denials of knowing her was presented as circumstantial evidence that he tried to cover up murdering her.
After the jury bought the prosecutor's argument and convicted Jeffrey Scott Hornoff of murder without any proof he was guilty, he professed his innocence at his sentencing. He told the packed courtroom, "Am I guilty of something? Yes I am. I broke my sacred wedding vows, and for that I will never forgive myself."
Sentenced to life in prison, the Rhode Island Supreme Court unanimously dismissed Hornoff's arguments when it upheld his conviction in 1999. At that point all indications were that he would be spending the rest of his life in prison branded as a heinous and vicious murderer. However, fate intervened on his behalf when on Friday, November 1, 2002, 45 year old carpenter Todd Barry walked into the office of the Rhode Island Attorney General and confessed to murdering Victoria Cushman. Barry indicated he was consumed with guilt over an innocent man spending his life in prison for something Barry had done.
After the A.G.'s office spent the weekend verifying that Barry's confession coincided with the known evidence and facts of the case, he was charged on Monday, November 4th with her murder. The degree to which Victoria Cushman's murder was inadequately investigated is indicated by the fact that although Barry lived near her and had dated her, he was never considered a suspect and had never even been questioned about her murder. Todd Barry was home free once law enforcement officials locked onto Hornoff as her killer. At that point tunnel vision set in they became blind to clues leading to anyone else and all meaningful investigation into her murder ended. Although they had a friendship with Victoria Cushman in common, there is no evidence that Barry or Hornoff had ever met or knew of each other.
Tunnel vision has been defined as "the single minded and overly narrow focus on an investigation or prosecutorial theory so as to unreasonably colour the evaluation of information received and one's conduct in response to the information." Tunnel vision, and its perverse by-product "noble cause corruption," are the antithesis of the proper roles of the police and Crown Attorney. Yet tunnel vision has been identified as a leading cause of wrongful convictions in Canada and elsewhere.
Jeffrey Scott Hornoff walked out of the Providence County Courthouse a free man on November 6th, five days after Todd Barry confessed to Victory Cushman's murder. His release on bail pending further proceedings was ordered by the same judge that had presided over his trial and assuming his guilt, had sentenced him to spend the rest of his life in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Hornoff's claim of innocence had fallen on the deaf ears and to the blind eyes of everyone, including the judge, who chose to substitute the appearance of his guilt for any proof that he actually was.
Although Barry's confession is what led to Hornoff's release, concerned people had been publicizing his nearly self-evident innocence for some time. The group truthinjustice.org, for example, explained on its website that the case against him was based on "innuendoes and speculation. There were no fingerprints, no blood evidence, no DNA matches, no witnesses, and no evidence."
Rhode Island Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse tried to deflect attention away from the failure of the police to adequately investigate Victoria Cushman's murder and the failure of the prosecutors to demand evidence Jeffrey Scott Hornoff was guilty before prosecuting him. Whitehouse used the same sort of hollow sophistry and disregard for the truth that led to Hornoff's false conviction when he denied investigators and prosecutors "did anything improper or wrong." Although Hornoff was the victim of a horrible wrong by law enforcement officials and judges that obliterated his life, Whitehouse blamed him for his wrongful prosecution, conviction and imprisonment by saying he shouldn't have made the sort of "misstatements" to police typical of someone "who is trying to hide something." Yet it was soon made plain to police after they first questioned Hornoff in 1989 that he was trying to hide something: his illicit affair with Victoria Cushman from his wife. For initially lying to police about that indiscretion he paid the heavy price of being tormented and punished for over thirteen years: the seven years he spent as a suspect and accused from her 1989 murder to his 1996 conviction, and the six and a half years he spent in Rhode Island's maximum-security prison falsely branded as her killer.
The horrific travesty perpetrated on Jeffrey Scott Hornoff by the police, the prosecutors, and the trial and appellate court judges involved in his case is not lessened by the sophomoric effort of Rhode Island officials to cover up for their blundering incompetence and callousness. All he can now do is to rebuild his life from the ashes of the atomic bomb dropped on it from his purely coincidental choice of having an affair with the woman murdered by Todd Barry. In a particularly cruel twist of fate, the wife he had tried to protect from knowing about his affair with Victoria Cushman by lying to the police, divorced him while he was in prison. It was that lie told to try to preserve his marriage that prosecutors used to destroy his credibility and falsely paint him as a heinous murderer. So telling that lie intended to protect what A.G. Whitehouse called the "small secret" of his affair, is what he spent over six years in prison for, not her murder.
When released from custody on November 6th Jeffrey Scott Hornoff literally had nothing but the clothes on his back. His home, his wife, his career, his possessions - it was all gone. Five weeks later, on December 11, 2002, about 150 people turned out for a fundraising dinner in Warwick, Rhode Island to help him get back on his feet financially. Over $5,300 was raised and his three sons, 13, 11 and 6, who now have their father back, attended.
PROVIDENCE, RI -- For someone who claimed to be innocent, Jeffrey Scott Hornoff behaved a lot like a guilty man.
In the days, weeks and years after Victoria Cushman was bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher in 1989, Hornoff changed his story several times. Under police questioning, he whimpered, held his head in his hands and stared morosely at the floor.
Now, more than six years into a life sentence for murder, it turns out his only offense was adultery and lying about it to police. The former Warwick police detective's attempts to hide the infidelity were apparently what got him convicted.
None of that, however, became clear until this month, when Todd Barry, a 45-year-old carpenter who was never even a suspect, came forward and confessed to the murder. Investigators said he acted out of guilt.
They gave no motive for the slaying but said Barry and the victim had dated.
"It's an utter stroke of luck," said Rob Warden, director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Northwestern University School of Law. "We probably don't have more than a dozen examples nationally of cases in which a voluntary confession has led to an exoneration."
He added, "If this had happened in another state that had the death penalty, Hornoff would almost certainly be dead."
Two days after Barry was charged with murder, a judge set Hornoff free.
"Scott Hornoff had small secrets that he wanted to protect," said Atty. Gen. Sheldon Whitehouse. "Protecting those small secrets made him look like he was protecting the big secret that he had murdered Victoria Cushman."
Hornoff, a 40-year-old father of three, has declined all interview requests until his case has been dismissed, which could happen Dec. 6.
Hornoff and Cushman met in 1989 while she was working at a sporting goods store where Hornoff, a member of the Warwick police diving team, bought his scuba gear. He was married and had a baby. He and Cushman began sleeping together that summer.
Cushman, 29, told co-workers she thought Hornoff would leave his wife for her. Later that summer, Hornoff apparently told Cushman he was breaking it off with her. A co-worker of Cushman's testified that Cushman was surprised and angry.
Two days later, Cushman failed to show up for a work, and she was found bludgeoned to death in her apartment. The weapon, a 17-pound fire extinguisher, was found nearby. Detectives also found a letter she had written to Hornoff in which she refused to break off their affair and insisted he leave his wife.
Lacking any blood, fingerprints or other forensic evidence linking Hornoff to the crime, prosecutors seized on the letter.
There was also Hornoff's behavior. In the hours after Cushman's body was discovered, he gave conflicting accounts of his relationship with Cushman, even once denying that he knew her. His alibi differed from what his wife and brother told investigators.
"The criminal justice system is simply unforgiving when people do things that are quite natural," Warden said. "When somebody asks if you're having an affair, it's quite natural to lie. Then you're a liar. When you start telling the truth, you're changing your story. That's two strikes as far as a jury's concerned."
The Warwick Police Department's handling of the case probably didn't help. In their zeal to protect Hornoff, his fellow officers may have made him look more guilty, Whitehouse said. Evidence was lost or misplaced.
Police also gave him a polygraph and said he passed; investigators later said the test violated every rule for conducting such procedures.
The state police eventually took over the case and, in 1994, more than five years after the slaying, Hornoff was charged with murder.
"By then it was almost like common knowledge that Scott had killed the girl," said City Councilman Carlo Pisaturo Jr., who pushed for an independent investigation of the department's handling of the case. "All indications were that he was guilty and that the cops had covered for him."
Warwick Police Chief Wesley Blanchard and another high-ranking officer resigned amid allegations that they aided in a cover-up.
At trial, prosecutors argued that Hornoff killed Victoria Cushman to keep his wife, Rhonda, from learning about the affair. They said he left a party that night, went to Cushman's apartment to kill her and then returned. Partygoers testified he seemed dazed and out of breath.
His attorney, Joel Chase, argued that Victoria Cushman was killed by a burglar she had startled.
Hornoff and his wife were divorced a few years ago. At his sentencing, Hornoff professed his innocence.
"Am I guilty of something?" he said. "Yes, I am. I broke my sacred wedding vows and for that I will never forgive myself."