Paul Kamienski's Story
I was born April 18, 1948 and grew up in Passaic, New Jersey, attending Holy Rosary elementary school and then Pope Pius XII Diocesan High School, both in Passaic, before attending and graduating from the University of Miami.
My mother's parents emigrated here from Russia. My mother's dad came from Moscow. My grandfather and grandmother on my dad's side came to the United States from Zakopane, Poland, a cold, mountainous area. No wonder why my mom and dad loved the Jersey Shore in the summer and also vacationed and relocated to sunny, warm Florida. I'm sure I inherited my love for the shore the sun and the sea from both of them. A winter skier I am not.
The Family Funeral Business
My grandfather started the family funeral business in Passaic in 1909. My dad was a glider pilot who survived World War II (so many of them never came back). When he got back to the states he returned to the family business, opening our Garfield funeral home in 1955 or '56 and the Wallington home around the same time.
Mom and Dad
Mom, the former Sophie Ushkevich, was a rock. She stood by me throughout this nightmare. She, like many of my friends and relatives died during the 20 years I have been imprisoned.
Through my dad, I've had a love for the sea ever since I can remember. I recall being a five- or six-year-old fishing off Point Pleasant, New Jersey with my father. Dad had an old boat we called, “The Scow.” We'd fish in Manasquan Inlet for fluke and flounder. Later dad had a 33-foot Cruise-A-Long. As a kid I had my own small motorboat with an equally small outboard motor.
Dad built our Jersey shore home near Toms River in Lanoka Harbor. That's where I spent all my summers from 1957 through 1970 when I went out on my own. My parents sold the home in '72 or '73 when dad retired and they moved to a Florida condominium.
Parade Grand Marshal
One of my proudest moments occurred in the fall of 1979, when I was honored as Grand Marshal of the Pulaski Day Parade for the Garfield, Passaic and Wallington Contingent. Dad had been grand marshal for the same parade back in the mid 1950s. The black-and-white photo of me in front of the metal fence was taken when I was just seven and dad was grand marshal.
In February 1980 dad had a second heart attack. The next day I was scheduled to perform my final duty as grand marshal of the Pulaski Day festivities from the previous October. But instead of escorting Miss Polonia to the ball I had to rush to Florida to be with dad. A former heavy smoker, he had an earlier heart attack. This one killed him.
A Fatal Boating Accident
The fatal Memorial Day 1981 boating accident that claimed the life of my fiancée and seriously injured me was a watershed moment that marked the beginning of the end for me. I pushed myself in to a bigger spiral of substance abuse which included unsavory associations that ended up helping to trap me in a false conviction and being imprisoned possibly for the rest of my life.
It was late afternoon on the official opening day of the 1981 boating season. A good friend had purchased a new boat and asked me to follow him in my boat back to the Toms River dealership where he had purchased his boat. Later we tied up in Toms River for drinks and socializing. By the time we were underway it had gotten dark. I was driving the boat with my head just above the windshield, trying to get a fix on a particular shore light to help me navigate the channel. There were low-lying islands in the bay, near the channel. By the time I saw one right in front of me it was too late. We hit it hard, the stern drive dug into the bottom and the boat rolled over. I was knocked unconscious. When I came to I saw flames behind the boat. I started to try to get up and somehow check under the boat for my fiancée Diana, with whom I had been going for six-and-a-half years.
My left leg had received a compound fracture in the collision (bone was sticking out from it). I couldn't stand up so I crawled to the boat to try and do something but I couldn't. She pinned under the boat and drowned under it in the marsh.
Did alcohol play a part? I am haunted by that thought to this day because my blood alcohol content was over today's limit. After the accident alcohol was one of the chemicals and substances I abused – sometimes recreationally and sometimes compulsively. I later turned to cocaine as well to numb myself from the horror I had caused.
My Radar Goes Down, Even More
After I got out of the hospital and onto my houseboat to recuperate, my “bad associates” radar went down even further as my substance abuse went up in an attempt to dull the terrible guilt I felt. I had ample funds and always paid for drugs when I used them. I never dealt in them but, as someone who used them I sometimes kept company with those who did. I started drinking more often and racked up two DWIs. Now I could no longer drive.
It's obvious now, 26 years after my unjust conviction, that I was more than numb. I didn't care who was around me. I had an identity but I was a lost soul. As I became even more out of control, I allowed myself to befriend and associate with people that a sober, sensible person would never associate with.
Life After My Accident
After graduating from the University of Miami, with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration I attended the American Academy at McAllister Institute of Funeral Services in New York City and then went to work with dad and it was satisfying to be a funeral director. I was helping people through the most difficult times of their lives. Funeral homes often were like confessionals. As a funeral director I spoke with hundreds of distraught family members who shared not just their pain but, often, their innermost thoughts. I enjoyed this role in helping them to cope with the deaths of loved ones.
But shortly after the fatal boating accident I began to feel overwhelmed. I had lost my dad, then my fiancée. I felt as though I had to get away. I learned the principles of good management in earning my business degree and I knew how to delegate authority. You get good people to manage and you take your ego away. In the hospital I endured 48 days of surgeries, bone and skin grafts and physical therapy. All during that time the funeral homes had run well without me. I knew I didn't have to be there physically all the time as an owner.
It was during this time that I first began to be involved with my then live-in girl friend Donna Duckworth (who later became the prosecution‘s star witness against me while she was facing drug possession charges in Ocean County), Henry “Nick” and Barbara Detournay (the victims of a drug deal gone bad) and Tony Alongi and Joe Marzeno (my co-defendants at trial; Marzeno later bragged about how he had single-handled killed the DeTournays and stole three kilos of coke from them). A lot of my time with these people centered on using drugs recreationally. Looking back, I would not be where I am today if I had never gotten caught up in drugs and crossed paths with these people. But I did and I have no one to blame but myself.
I swear that I had nothing to do with the DeTournays' killings. I had no clue Marzeno had it in mind to kill them. I was not present when the murders occurred and did nothing to help Marzeno commit them. I was not his accomplice. Period.
At the Time of My Arrest
In the mid-1980s I visited my mom in Florida, and met a leading- edge entrepreneur in the dawning of the small computer age. He had started a clever business called “Autoputer” selling new, fleet-purchased cars across the country. Potential purchasers would receive a printout of the vehicle they wanted and could then pick up their cars at most dealerships of that brand in the U.S. I was fascinated. When he started licensing the Autoputer name I opened a dealership in Stuart, Florida, which I called, “Autoputer/Stuart” and operated until my 1987 arrest. Up until then, I had no contact with the criminal justice system, other than for the two driving while impaired violations.
My Prison Future
I am in year 20 of a double-life sentence for the DeTournays' deaths, for which parole consideration cannot even begin until year 30, plus additional time for the related drug conspiracy. I'm now incarcerated at the South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, New Jersey. I've been a model prisoner since my first day in jail and have never been written up for any type of prison infraction. I survive on the knowledge that I do not belong here and the faith that this injustice will one day be corrected. I continue to receive support from friends and family and that helps a lot, too.
If My Conviction Is Overturned
If my conviction is reversed and I can get out of prison, what's the first thing I'll do? I'll go to the cemeteries to pay my respects to my mom, my closest family and other loved ones who did not survive my ordeal but were forever my support.
I'm going down to the ocean, taking off my shoes and walking on the sand up to the shoreline to put my toes in the water and curl them into the sand.
And then I'm going to pet someone's dog. Yes, a dog. My family had one from when I was four years old until I was a junior in high school. We never had another but I've always loved animals and I miss them.
And then I'll probably be overcome with remorse, knowing all the years I've wasted.
If my appeal is successful and I finally am free I'm thinking about speaking to high school and college audiences about the dangers of casual drug use. I can show convincingly, in my own case, how recreational use and my lifestyle spiraled into a life lost because of those with whom I associated.
My case is unusual, in that I always could pay for my drugs and never sold them. When I began using them in college in the ‘70s the attitudes were more cavalier and there was less danger. It was the times. I traveled with professionals and working stiffs who dabbled in drugs.
But today things are much more dangerous. Prisons are filled with those who became habituated and had to turn to crime as the only way to obtain the cash to get their drugs.
I also think I could offer my personal experience from 20 years' imprisonment to help suggest methods of aiding prisoners in improving themselves in preparation for life outside. The correctional system could use my unique vantage at this point to help develop tools and techniques that can allow a released prisoner to avoid becoming a recidivist.
How You Can Help Me
Do you have any information my attorneys can use to prove my unfair conviction? Please contact them.
I continue to believe that there are persons out there, in New Jersey and elsewhere, who have information that can help prove my innocence or buttress my federal appeal.
It's been 25 plus years. The convicted killer has died in Trenton State Prison.
Now it is time for someone to step out of the shadows without fear. Come forward to help me put all the pieces together. Allow me to end a 20-year never-ending nightmare, a conviction as an accomplice in connection with a double murder even the trial judge and prosecutor admitted I didn't know was going to occur and did nothing to facilitate.