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Innocence Project leaders and exonerees testify before Texas Senate committee
Posted: April 10, 2007
The Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee held a hearing today on three bills to reform the state's justice system. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck testified, along with four Texas exonerees: James Giles, Brandon Moon, Chris Ochoa and James Waller. The bills discussed today were introduced by Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis (the chairman of the Innocence Project Board of Directors) and would create a Texas innocence commission, expand the state's compensation statute and require law enforcement agencies to record custodial interrogations.
Watch video of today's full press conference, featuring Scheck, Ellis, Giles, Moon, Ochoa and Waller. (Real player required, download it here.)
Watch video of today's Senate Committee on Criminal Justice hearing.
Read background on Senate bill 262 and 263 and 799.
News coverage of today's hearing and press conference:
Ex-inmates urge reforms to aid wrongly convicted. (Houston Chronicle, 04/10/07)
Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation, False Confessions
Texas Senate committee approves reform bills
Posted: April 11, 2007
The Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice approved bills yesterday that would significantly improve the state’s justice system. The bills, introduced by Senator Rodney Ellis (the chairman of the Innocence Project Board of Directors), would create an innocence commission, improve eyewitness identification procedures and increase compensation for the wrongly convicted.
The committee heard testimony yesterday from four men (James Giles, Brandon Moon, Chris Ochoa and James Waller) who served decades in Texas prisons for crimes they didn’t commit. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck also testified.
Watch video of yesterday's full press conference, featuring Scheck, Ellis, Giles, Moon, Ochoa and Waller. (Real player required, download it here.)
Watch video of yesterday's Senate Committee on Criminal Justice hearing.
The bills will now go before the full senate for approval. Read the full story on the committee’s vote. (El Paso Times, 4/11/07)
Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation, Eyewitness Identification
Two exonerees reach $8 million settlement with city of Chicago
Posted: April 12, 2007
Chicago officials announced yesterday that the city had reached a settlement deal with two men who had served more than 13 years for a crime they didn’t commit. Larry Ollins and Omar Saunders were wrongly convicted of rape and murder in 1988 in Chicago and sentenced to life. DNA testing proved them innocent in 2001. Under the settlement deal, each man will receive $4 million.
The city has already settled with two other men who were wrongly convicted of the same crime: Calvin Ollins (Larry’s cousin) and Marcellius Bradford.
(Chicago) Alderman Ed Smith called the case a tragedy and said the money can't make up for the time the men spent in prison.
"Nothing pays like having your life intact without a blemish," he said.Read more about the cases of Larry Ollins, Calvin Ollins, Omar Saunders and Marcellius Bradford.
Read the full story here. (Chicago Tribune, 4/11/07)
Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have laws that compensate the wrongly convicted. Read more about this issue in our Fix The System section.
More compensation news: Florida lawmakers consider compensation for 2006 exoneree Alan Crotzer. (Palm Beach Post, 04/12/07, Payment required for full article)
Tags: Exoneree Compensation
Philadelphia Inquirer: Criminal Justice Failures
Posted: April 25, 2007
An editorial in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer calls for criminal justice reforms to address the causes of wrongful conviction.
Since the first person was exonerated by DNA evidence in 1989, such reversals are becoming more frequent. The 200 people cleared by DNA in the United States spent a combined 2,475 years in prison for crimes they didn't commit.
What if one of them were your brother, or son, or father?
There can be no doubt that there are other innocent people behind bars, including some on death row.Read the full editorial here. (Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/25/07)
Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation, Eyewitness Identification
Federal jury awards compensation to wrongfully convicted man
Posted: May 1, 2007
Herman Atkins was convicted in 1988 of a southern California rape he didn’t commit. Yesterday, a federal jury ordered the Riverside County to pay him $2 million because a detective had falsified evidence that led to his conviction. Evidence presented at the civil trial showed that a statement allegedly made by a witness connecting Atkins to the area of the crime was fabricated.
"When I was in prison, one thing that motivated me was something my grandmother often said to me. She said, 'A lie will die, but the truth lives on.' Today, Detective Miller's lies were not only exposed but put to rest, and the truth lives on as my grandmother said," he said.
Atkins, now 41 and living in Fresno, said he hoped to start a graduate program in psychology or go to law school. He and his wife have started a small foundation to help others who have been exonerated adjust to life outside prison.
Read the full story. (Los Angeles Times, 5/1/07, Payment required for full article)
Atkins served over 11 years for the 1986 rape before DNA evidence led to his exoneration in 2000. Read more about his case here.
Tags: Exoneree Compensation, Government Misconduct
NY legislators join Innocence Project in supporting sweeping reforms
Posted: May 4, 2007
Leaders in the New York legislature joined Innocence Project officials and New Yorkers who were exonerated by DNA evidence yesterday in announcing broad-based reforms to fix the state’s criminal justice system and help prevent wrongful convictions from happening.
The reforms proposed in several bills before the legislature include the creation of an innocence commission, improving requirements on evidence preservation, post-conviction DNA testing, use of forensic databases to prove innocence and compensation for people exonerated after serving time in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.
Also in attendance yesterday were Alan Newton, who served 22 years in New York prisons for a rape he didn’t commit, and Douglas Warney, who served nine years after falsely confessing to a murder.
Read the Innocence Project’s press release on the reform package.
Read coverage of yesterday’s announcements in the New York Times and Newsday.
Learn more about reforms underway nationwide in our “Fix the System” section.
Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing, False Confessions
Compensation bill for Florida exoneree fails for second time
Posted: May 8, 2007
Florida is one of 29 states that lack a law compensating the wrongfully convicted after their release. Alan Crotzer was exonerated by DNA testing and released from Florida prison in 2006 after serving more than 24 years for a rape he didn’t commit. The Florida Senate ended its 2007 session this week without passing a proposed bill that would pay Crotzer $1.25 million.
In today’s USA Today, columnist DeWayne Wickham writes that the legislature should have compensated Crotzer for the injustice he suffered:
That idea shouldn't be a hard sell. Crotzer was robbed of what could well have been the most productive years of his life by a wrongful conviction. And in the 15 months since his release, he has struggled — without any useful job skills — to put his life back in order. How long will he be forced to wait for Florida to pay the debt it owes him?Miami Herald: Exonerated convict may not get compensation (05/02/07)
What is it going to take to get Florida and the other states that don't have them to enact a compensation statute?
DNA testing has made it possible for some people who have been imprisoned by mistake to go free. Now we've got to find a way to get state lawmakers such as Pruitt to move expeditiously — and predictably — to help make these victims whole.
Read the full column here. (USA Today, 05/08/07)
How does your state stack up? View a map of compensation bills nationwide.
Read more about compensation laws.
Tags: Florida, Alan Crotzer, Exoneree Compensation
Connecticut legislature awards $5 million to exoneree
Posted: May 21, 2007
James Tillman served 18 years in Connecticut prisons before DNA testing proved his innocence. Last week, the state legislature approved a bill awarding him $5 million in compensation for the injustice he suffered. The bill now goes to Governor Jodi Rell, who has said she will sign it.
An editorial in today’s Hartford Courant calls on lawmakers to create a formula to compensate future exonerees in a similar way.
They should set a policy for fair compensation based on the Tillman precedent. His award was calculated roughly on what other states have done in similar situations. He was compensated for loss of liberty and enjoyment of life, loss of income, loss of future earnings because he will be starting from scratch, for physical and psychological injury and loss of familial relationships. In exchange, he agreed not to press claims against the state.And Slate.com examined compensation policies nationwide on Friday.
Let's put that formula in writing. There's only one James Calvin Tillman. But all who are wronged in this egregious manner deserve fair and equal treatment.
Read the full editorial. (Hartford Courant, 5/21/07)
Read more about Tillman’s case and about compensation policies nationwide.
Tags: Connecticut, James Tillman, Exoneree Compensation
Georgia man to be compensated for 24 years of wrongful incarceration
Posted: May 25, 2007
Robert Clark was exonerated in 2005 after serving more than half of his life in prison for a 1981 rape he didn’t commit. Yesterday, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a bill into law that grants Clark $1.2 million in compensation for the injustice he suffered. The bill was approved by Georgia lawmakers on March 19.
"I think his reaction is going to be a gigantic smile," said Aimee Maxwell of the Georgia Innocence Project, which helped clear Clark. "And I think he will be relieved that the process has reached its successful conclusion."Associated Press: Perdue signs bills, compensates man freed through DNA
Read the full story here. (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 5/24/07)
Georgia does not have a general state law for compensating the wrongly convicted and this bill only applies to Clark. Perdue has said that the state should create standards for compensation of all wrongly convicted people.
video interview with Robert Clark to our YouTube page. View the video here, along with other interviews and footage from recent Innocence Project events.
Tags: Georgia, Robert Clark, Exoneree Compensation
What do states owe the exonerated?
Posted: May 30, 2007
A patchwork of compensation laws across the country has meant widely varying reentry experiences for each of the 201 people exonerated after spending years in prison for crimes they didn't commit . An article in today's Christian Science Montior examines the disparity nationwide and the need for more consistency.
"We are exonerating people who did not commit crimes, spent two decades in prison or time on death row, and when they get out, there are fewer reentry services for these people than for individuals who actually committed crimes," says Barry Scheck, codirector of the Innocence Project at Yeshiva University's Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, which is dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted. "It's a measure of decency."Read more about compensation laws nationwide, view a map of compensation laws in each state.
Read the full article here. (Christian Science Monitor, 5/30/07)
Tags: Exoneree Compensation
Vermont Gov. signs reform bill into law
Posted: June 5, 2007
Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas signed a bill last week granting access to DNA testing for people who claim innocence after being convicted of certain crimes in the state.
The bill also grants compensation to people exonerated after being convicted of a crime they didn’t commit, and it creates committees to study new state policies on evidence preservation, eyewitness identification reform and recording of custodial interrogation.
Click here to read the full text of the bill as passed by Vermont’s House and Senate.
View a map of post-conviction DNA access laws and exoneree compensation laws nationwide.
Tags: Vermont, Exoneree Compensation, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing
Louisiana exoneree starts reentry program
Posted: June 6, 2007
John Thompson spent 18 years in Louisiana prison – including 14 on death row – for a murder he didn’t commit. When a prosecutor made public that he had concealed evidence at Thompson’s 1984 trial that could have proven his innocence, he got a new trial and was acquitted of the charges in 2003.
Thompson was released with a small bag of possessions and given $10 for bus fare. He says he founded Resurrection After Exoneration to make sure that no future exonerees are dropped into freedom like he was. And he was recently awarded a two-year, $60,000 grant from Echoing Green to build RAE’s capacity.
Thompson said the wrongfully convicted have a hard time finding a place to live where they can be at peace. Most are forced to move in with family members, which can cause turmoil. Former inmates often have difficulties communicating because no one understands what they’ve been through and the effect it’s had on their psyche.
“You can’t communicate with your family. You don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing,” Thompson said. “You’re supposed to get a job but because of your record or attitude you can’t. It’s not what we wanted to come home to but we have no choice. And that’s the worst — being a grown man having to depend on someone else for help. And it all goes back to that one thing — what I experienced in that prison but no one wants to recognize it.”NOTE: Because Thompson was not exonerated as a result of DNA testing, his case is not listed as one of the 202 DNA exonerations tracked by the Innocence Project.
Resurrection After Exoneration will offer the wrongfully convicted a place to live, jobs and courses in how to manage finances. Participants will be asked to set aside at least 25 percent of their paychecks in savings accounts. After a year, RAE will match the savings to help find independent housing.
Read the full story. (New Orleans City Business, 06/04/07)
Tags: Louisiana, Exoneree Compensation, Government Misconduct
What is lost freedom worth?
Posted: July 6, 2007 11:09 am
A columnist in the Chico (California) News & Review this week considers the devastation caused by a wrongful conviction and society’s duty to compensate the victims of injustice.
The media never focus on what happens next in the fractured life of the person who wrongly paid his debt to society in prison. Does society in turn owe a debt to the innocent prisoner?22 states have laws ensuring compensation of the wrongfully convicted. Click here for a map of state compensation policies.
Read the full column here. (Chico News & Review, 07/05/07)
Tags: Exoneree Compensation
NJ Senators propose increased compensation for exonerees
Posted: July 18, 2007 1:20 pm
Two New Jersey state Senators proposed today that the state increase the compensation it pays to the wrongfully convicted upon exoneration. Saying they were inspired by the case of Byron Halsey, an Innocence Project client who was recently exonerated after serving 19 years in prison for two murders he didn’t commit, Senators Richard J. Codey and Ellen Karcher said the state should increase compensation to $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration. The state’s current standard is $20,000 per year or twice the person’s annual salary at the time of incarceration, whichever is greater. The federal government, along with several states, provides for up to $50,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment.
“There is no way to fully compensate someone for the loss of years from their life,” said Sen. Codey (D-Essex). “In cases like Mr. Halsey’s, the world and the skills set needed have changed drastically in the last 20 years. The least we can do is provide a person with a greater cushion to acclimate to life outside of prison. This is just one small way to right a gross wrong.”Halsey is the 205th person exonerated by DNA evidence nationwide and the fifth in New Jersey. Read about Halsey and the other New Jersey exonerees.
Read the full press release. (PoliticsNJ.com, 7/18/07)
Read more about compensation reforms underway nationwide and view a map of the 22 states with compensation laws in place.
Tags: New Jersey, Byron Halsey, Exoneree Compensation
Virginia governor proclaims exoneree's innocence
Posted: July 20, 2007 12:46 pm
It was more than two decades ago that Virginia came within nine days of executing an innocent man. Earl Washington, Jr., was convicted at age 22 of a 1982 rape he didn’t commit after he gave police a false confession riddled with facts that didn’t correspond to the crime. He served 17 years in prison – including 10 on death row – before he was released after DNA testing proved his innocence. Upon his release, he took the state to court – and was opposed – as he sought compensation for the injustice he suffered. Last year, the lawsuit was finally settled, and this month, the state of Virginia finally admitted that he is innocent.
In a new pardon issued July 6, which revised one issued in 2000 by a former governor, Gov. Timothy Kaine wrote: "I have decided it is just and appropriate to grant this revised absolute pardon that reflects Mr. Washington's innocence." The previous pardon only admitted that a rational jury would not convict Washington.
An editorial this week in the Virginia Daily Press calls for the state to treat exonerees with dignity and to enact reforms based on the lessons of Washington’s case.
The case has also taught us some lessons — that police and prosecutors can be pursuing something other than the truth, that confessions can be false, that just because someone is on death row doesn't mean he's guilty. We should remember them every time a defendant comes to trial, and every time a life hangs in the death penalty's balance.Read more about the July 6 pardon.
Read the full editorial here. (Daily Press, 07/16/07)
Read more about Washington’s case and exoneree compensation nationwide.
Tags: Virginia, Earl Washington, Exoneree Compensation
California officials say exoneree shouldn’t be compensated because he pled guilty
Posted: July 25, 2007 4:57 pm
James Ochoa was 20 years old when he pled guilty to a carjacking he didn’t commit in order to avoid a 25-year-to-life sentence the judge threatened him with if he was convicted. With a guilty plea, he was sentenced to two years in prison. Ten months into his prison term, DNA evidence proved that another man committed the crime. Ochoa was released and exonerated.
Now Ochoa is seeking compensation under a law in California that grants about $100 per day of wrongful incarceration to those wrongfully imprisoned and later proven innocent. The law says that exonerees who “contributed to” their conviction don’t qualify for compensation. Because Ochoa pled guilty prosecutors are saying that he contributed to his conviction.
A column in the Los Angeles Times calls for Ochoa to be compensated with no more delay:
The cops, the district attorney and a judge already have had their fun with James Ochoa, behaving like dogs with a chew toy. Now it's the attorney general's turn to snarl, take a bite or two, and fling him around some more.Read a blog post on this topic from Reason Magazine.
All in the name of justice, of course.
Read the full column here. (06/30/2007)
A hearing on Ochoa's compensation claim is scheduled for October 11.
Read more about Ochoa’s case.
Tags: James Ochoa, Exoneree Compensation
Released without an apology
Posted: August 6, 2007 11:08 am
"It’s like a bad story on the twilight zone," David Pope tells a PBS reporter about his wrongful conviction. "The man wakes up in jail and he keeps waking up there and he can’t believe it’s really happening."
A recent episode of Life & Times, on Los Angeles PBS affiliate KCET, covered wrongful convictions and the lack of compensation for many exonerees nationwide.
In a guest blog on the show’s website, Innocence Project Co-Directors Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld write that compensation should come packaged with reforms:David Pope’s case and the case of Herman Atkins, who was also featured on the episode.
Even in their first days of freedom, the euphoria that many exonerated people feel is tempered by a personal understanding of the larger problem and an unwavering resolve to help fix a broken system. They don’t want anyone else to be robbed of life and liberty as they were.
Read more about proposed exoneree compensation reforms.
Tags: Herman Atkins, David Shawn Pope, Exoneree Compensation
North Carolina compensation law still lags behind national standard
Posted: August 30, 2007 10:42 am
Dwayne Dail was exonerated on Tuesday in Goldsboro, N.C., and his attorney Chris Mumma (the director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence) has said Dail will seek a pardon from the governor and compensation under the state statute, which provides $20,000 per year of wrongful incarceration. North Carolina is one of 22 states with laws providing for exoneree compensation, but the amount provided by the state lags behind the standard of up to $50,000 per year set by the federal government.
Texas lawmakers passed a law this year increasing exoneree compensation from $25,000 per year to $50,000 per year. The Innocence Project supports this reform.
How does your state stack up? View a map of compensation laws by state.
Read more about exoneree compensation.
Tags: North Carolina, Dwayne Dail, Exoneree Compensation
States slow to create compensation programs
Posted: September 13, 2007 3:09 pm
Only 22 states have laws compensating the wrongfully convicted after their release, and many of those laws are inadequate, as they haven’t been updated for years. An Associated Press story yesterday examines the situation nationwide, and reviews the Innocence Project’s ongoing efforts to create programs nationwide that help exonerees get back on their feet after release.
When Antonio Beaver was freed from prison by DNA evidence, he was overwhelmed by supporters eager to help him return to normal life after spending nearly 11 years behind bars.What’s the law in your state? View our map to find out.
After his release in March, some promised jobs. Others set up a charitable fund in his name. Relatives offered assistance, too. But six months later, Beaver was quick to list the number of people he could still count on: One.
"You got to fend for yourself," said Beaver, who was wrongly imprisoned in 1997 for a violent carjacking. "Everybody's making promises: 'We're going to do this and do that.' Ain't nobody done nothing yet. I got to deal with it, man. It's just the way our society is."
Read the full article here. (Associated Press, 09/12/2007)
Read more about the Innocence Project’s recommended compensation reforms.
Tags: Antonio Beaver, Exoneree Compensation
Exoneree compensation sought in Florida
Posted: September 18, 2007 1:55 pm
Alan Crotzer was freed from prison nearly two years ago after DNA testing proved he didn’t commit a 1981 rape for which he had served half his life in prison. As he continues to adjust to life outside of prison, he is seeking compensation from the state for the loss of more than two decades. Florida is one of 28 states in the U.S. that do not have laws providing compensation for the wrongfully convicted. That could change in 2008.
While a “private” bill has been proposed that would pay Crotzer $1.25 million (or about $50,000 for each year he served), this bill doesn’t create a state policy to handle the reentry of those exonerated in the future. A similar bill to compensate Crotzer failed in the legislature last year. A “global” compensation bill has also been submitted for the state’s 2008 legislative session. This bill would provide $50,000 in compensation for each year an inmate serves for a crime he or she didn’t commit. The Innocence Project recommends that states pass laws (or amend existing laws) to provide $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration. Read more about the Innocence Project’s proposed reforms here.
Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, says she will reintroduce what is being referred to as a "global" bill providing automatic compensation of $50,000 per lost year to anyone wrongly incarcerated. Should such legislation pass, victims would not have to go through the individual claims bill process.What is your state’s compensation law? View our map to find out.
"This is an egregious act," Joyner says. "Somebody took that much time of your life? My God, no amount of compensation could give me back the years I wasn't able to enjoy life. Just having the ability to make a phone call, or catch a bus somewhere."
Read the full story here. (Tampa Tribune, 09/18/07)
Learn more about exoneration cases and ongoing reform efforts from the Innocence Project of Florida.
Tags: Alan Crotzer, Exoneree Compensation
Michigan lawmakers consider compensation law
Posted: October 24, 2007 1:10 pm
Nationwide, 22 states have laws providing some form of compensation for wrongfully convicted people after their release. In considering a bill that would make Michigan the 23rd state with a compensation statute, lawmakers in Lansing heard testimony yesterday from representatives of the Innocence Project at Cooley Law School and two people who served time in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. The proposed bill would provide exonerees with $50,000 for each year they spent behind bars, plus lost wages, legal fees and medical care.
Although 22 states have laws, they vary greatly in the level of compensation. With this law, Michigan would join just three other states – Texas, Vermont and Alabama – in meeting or exceeding the federal standard of up to $50,000 per year of incarceration.
Rep. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, sponsor of the proposed compensation law, said the cost to taxpayers would be relatively small because there would be very few ex-inmates eligible. But the small cost needs to be balanced against the “immeasurably huge injustice” a wrongly convicted inmate has suffered, Bieda said.Does your state have a compensation law? View our interactive map to find out.
Read the full story here. (Detroit Free Press, 10/23/07)
The Innocence Project at Cooley Law School is a member of the Innocence Network.
Tags: Michigan, Exoneree Compensation
Radio interview on bills before Michigan legislature
Posted: November 8, 2007 7:00 am
In an interview yesterday on Michigan Public Radio, the co-director of an organization that works to overturn wrongful convictions in Michigan said bills currently pending before the state’s legislature would improve access to DNA testing and help to prevent future wrongful convictions.
Donna McKneelen, the Co-Director of the Cooley Innocence Project at Cooley Law School (an Innocence Network member), said innocent inmates could possibly be denied DNA testing due to restrictions in the current law. A pending bill, HB 5089, would amend that law to remove unnecessary restrictions on applying for testing. McKneelen also said she supports the bill that would provide compensation to exonerees.
Listen to McKneelen’s interview here.
Tags: Michigan, Exoneree Compensation, Access to DNA Testing
Rocky Mountain Innocence Center works for Utah compensation law
Posted: November 26, 2007 2:43 pm
Utah is one of the 28 states lacking a law to compensate the wrongfully convicted upon their release, but the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center is working to change that. A bill that would compensate exonerees with $40,000 for each year they were wrongfully imprisoned passed a Utah Senate interim committee this summer and is set for introduction during the 2008 session. The bill passed the House last year, but didn’t make it to a Senate vote.
Katie Monroe is the executive director of the RMIC, which is affiliated with University of Utah’s law school. She said the compensation bill’s success will rely on a unique partnership with prosecutors.
The center teamed with the Utah Attorney General's Office to promote the bill - a partnership Monroe called nearly unprecedented.
"We were able to bring two seemingly opposing sides to find the middle ground," she said. "I think that's incredible."Read more about compensation laws nationwide.
Read the full story here. (Salt Lake Tribune, 11/26/07)
Visit a special New York Times interactive feature, published on Sunday, on the lives of exonerees after they are released.
Tags: Utah, Exoneree Compensation
The state's duty to help exonerees rebuild their lives
Posted: December 3, 2007 9:51 am
Only 22 states have laws compensating the wrongfully convicted upon their release, and many of those laws are outdated and woefully inadequate. A major study published last week by the New York Times surveyed more than 130 people exonerated by DNA evidence and found that dozens had met with severe struggles on their reentry to society. An article in the Times’ Week in Review asks where the state’s duty lies in helping exonerees get back on their feet.
“One of the biggest challenges is that once an innocent person comes out of prison, they are not equipped with the tools to reintegrate into society, and that’s something that money alone can’t solve,” said Representative Donald M. Payne, a New Jersey Democrat who introduced a bill to set aside $1.25 million a year for programs for exonerated prisoners.The Innocence Project exoneree fund supports exonerated Innocence Project clients as they rebuild their lives. Donate to the fund now.
Of the states with compensation laws, only three — Massachusetts, Louisiana and Vermont — provide for the costs of medical and psychological care.
… “Some people feel, ‘All right, it’s over now. You’re out, you’re free, so what are you complaining about? What’s the problem?’ ” said Darryl Hunt, exonerated in North Carolina after serving 18 years for murder.
“The problem is that we’re free physically,” he said. “But mentally, we’re still living the nightmare every day.”
Read the full story here. (New York Times Week in Review, 12/2/07)
Tags: Anthony Hicks, Darryl Hunt, Exoneree Compensation
Bipartisan federal bill would exempt exoneree compensation from taxes
Posted: December 7, 2007 12:01 pm
Laws in 22 states provide compensation for people proven innocent after serving time in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, but federal tax is unclear on whether the federal government can take some of that money back. A bill introduced yesterday by New York Senator Chuck Schumer (and co-sponsored by Kansas Senator Sam Brownback) would clarify the law to exempt exonerees from paying federal income tax on compensation for a wrongful conviction. The public owes a debt to these people wronged by the justice system, Schumer said, and this bill can help make amends after the criminal justice system makes a major error.
Seven months after his release from prison in 2001, after serving 15 years for a rape he did not commit, David Pope received $385,000 in compensation from the State of Texas and set out to rebuild his life: He rented an apartment, bought a car, helped his mother pay bills and traveled overseas for the first time.In addition to supporting this bill, the Innocence Project is working to pass compensation laws in the 28 states that currently lack them. Is yours one? Check out our interactive map to find out.
The money did not last long, but being broke is not the only problem Mr. Pope, 46, has grappled with since his exoneration. He said the Internal Revenue Service has notified him that he owes $90,000 in federal taxes on the compensation he received for his wrongful conviction, but he has no idea how he is going to settle the debt.
“I didn’t know I had to pay taxes over it until the government started sending me letters,” said Mr. Pope, who has struggled to find a steady job.
Read the full story here. (New York Times, 12/07/07)
Compensation laws in California, Massachusetts and Vermont all explicity exempt exoneree compensation from state income tax.
Tags: David Shawn Pope, Exoneree Compensation
NY Times editorial calls for reforms nationwide
Posted: January 10, 2008 11:00 am
An editorial in today’s New York Times considers the release last week of Charles Chatman in Dallas and calls for critical reforms nationwide to address and prevent wrongful convictions. Hundreds of innocent people remain behind bars, the editorial says, and the risk of convicting innocents will remain strong until we implement reforms that are proven to improven the accuracy and fairness of the criminal justice system – including reforms to eyewitness identification, interrogation procedures and crime lab oversight.
While DNA evidence has captured the popular imagination, Mr. Chatman’s story — and that of many postconviction exonerations — is also in large part about eyewitness misidentification, the most common factor in wrongful convictions. The Innocence Project has proposed some important reforms that states should use in upgrading their criminal justice system. These include improvements in the use of eyewitness testimony and electronic recording of interrogations.
Better oversight and funding of crime labs is also crucial, along with creation of innocence commissions to manage claims of wrongful conviction. A groundbreaking federal law now grants federal inmates access to DNA testing. Most states and localities are lagging in doing this, and in properly preserving evidence.
Read the full editorial here. (New York Times, 01/10/08)
Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing
Montana exoneree settles civil suit, calls for review of faulty forensics
Posted: January 14, 2008 11:10 am
Jimmy Ray Bromgard, who was exonerated in 2002 after spending more than 12 years in Montana prison for a rape he didn’t commit, settled a civil lawsuit with the state of Montana on Friday for $3.5 million, according to press reports. He sued the state and several officials in 2004, alleging that negligence by officers and officials led to his 1987 wrongful conviction.
Bromgard was convicted partly based on the false testimony of forensic analyst Arnold Melnikoff, who said hairs from the crime matched Bromgard and cited fabricated statistics on the stand. In a statement Friday, Bromgard said the state should review all cases in which hair evidence led to conviction, in case more innocent people remain behind bars.
"I urge the attorney general to appoint an independent examiner to conduct DNA testing on the hairs in every criminal case in which Melnikoff declared a match," Bromgard said in a statement released by his attorneys. "DNA and the truth set me free. The state of Montana should not be allowed to ignore its duty to seek the truth in all of these other criminal cases."Read more about Bromgard’s case here.
Read the full story here. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 01/12/08
Tags: Jimmy Ray Bromgard, Exoneree Compensation
North Carolina man will receive $370K for 18 years in prison
Posted: January 25, 2008 4:40 pm
The state of North Carolina will pay Dwayne Dail just under $370,000 to compensate him for the 18 years he was wrongfully imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. That amounts to about $20,000 for each year he served. North Carolina is one of 22 states in the country with a compensation law, but many – like North Carolina – don’t meet the federal standard of up to $50,000 per year served.
"There has to be laws written that (do) not excuse shoddy police work," Dail said. "The $20,000 a year is insulting. It' just not right -- no amount of money's going to make it right."Does your state have a compensation law? View our interactive reform map to find out.
Read the full story here. (Goldsboro News-Argus, 01/25/08)
Tags: North Carolina, Dwayne Dail, Exoneree Compensation
Utah Legislature passes compensation bill
Posted: February 6, 2008 5:05 pm
Utah is one of 28 states that don’t provide compensation to the exonerated, but a bill that received final approval today from the State Legislature seeks to change that. The proposed law would provide $35,000 per year of wrongful incarceration – up to a maximum of 15 years – for formerly incarcerated people who prove their factual innocence of the crime for which they served. The bill would also expunge the wrongful convictions from the exoneree’s criminal record. The bill has previously been approved by the Utah Senate and today received a 73-0 vote in the House. It is now pending a signature from Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to make it a law.
"You can try to imagine what it means to these people" - some come out of prison to no Social Security benefits, family, retirement or career, said State Sen. Greg Bell, who sponsored the bill.Download the full text of the bill. (PDF)
Read more here. (Salt Lake Tribune, 01/31/08)
Does your state have a compensation law? Find out on our interactive map.
Tags: Utah, Exoneree Compensation
California panel calls for criminal justice reforms
Posted: February 26, 2008 2:13 pm
The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice issued a report on Friday calling for improvements in the state’s handling of post-conviction appeals based on innocence and urging the state to improve compensation for exonerees after their release. The report calls for:
• An increase in the amount of compensation paid to exonerees – from $36,500 per year served to $50,000
• An extension in the time permitted for exonerees to file claims for compensation – from six months to two years
• State services for re-integration into society – currently offered to parolees but not exonerees
• State funding for the Northern California Innocence Project and California Innocence Project
An op-ed in the Los Angeles Times yesterday called on state lawmakers to make these recommendations a reality; read it here.
The Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, which is considered by many a national model for innocence commissions, will continue operating through June of this year. Visit the commission website here.
Learn about innocence commissions and compensation laws across the country in our interactive map.
Tags: California, Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation
Dallas column: Provide services for the exonerated
Posted: March 3, 2008 1:25 pm
A column in today’s Dallas Morning News by Rev. Gerald Britt, Jr. chronicles the case of Charles Allen Chatman, who was released from a Texas prison in January after serving 27 years for a rape he didn’t commit. Chatman’s “remarkable journey from incarceration to exoneration is an episode in a much larger story of the burden under which poor communities struggle – and how injustice further complicates that struggle,” Britt writes.
Texas has seen more wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing that any other state. It is also one of 22 states providing some compensation to exonerees. Thanks to an amendment passed last year, the state is among national leaders – providing counseling services, child support payments, and $50,000 per year served ($100,000 if the exonerated person was on death row). Britt writes that all states should fairly compensate the exonerated, and provide services to help them rebuild a stolen life.
Society rightly demands that those who commit crimes owe a debt that must be paid. But where that right has been unjustly or mistakenly demanded, society has an obligation to make immediate and comprehensive restitution. We impose a terrible burden on the falsely imprisoned. And we compound a problem that we already struggle to address: the restoration of the lives of residents to productivity in a time when we don’t have lives to waste.Does your state have a compensation law? Check our interactive map to find out.
Read the full column here. (Dallas Morning News, 03/03/08)
Tags: Texas, Exoneree Compensation
Georgia lawmakers approve compensation for Willie "Pete" Williams
Posted: March 5, 2008 1:15 pm
A key committee of the Georgia House of Representatives approved $1.2 million in compensation Monday for a man who spent 21 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. Willie “Pete” Williams was exonerated last year after DNA tests proved that another man committed the 1985 rape of which Williams was convicted.
The House Appropriations Committee approved a resolution from Rep. Steve Tumlin (R-Marietta) that would give Williams a $100,000 lump sum payment and the balance of the $1.2 million in yearly payments over 20 years.The resolution must still be passed by the Georgia House and Senate. Georgia is one of 28 states that do not have a law compensating the exonerated for years they lost in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. The Innocence Project has proposed that these states pass uniform bills rather than requiring each exoneree to go before the legislature for a “private bill” like this one.
Tumlin said the payments were meant to compensate Williams for the wages and other potential benefits he lost while serving time in prison.
Williams was 23 when he was convicted on eyewitness testimony from the victim of a Sandy Springs rape. Another man is now being prosecuted for the crime. "Losing your 20s, 30s and early 40s," Tumlin said. "Think about that if it were you."
Read the full story here. (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 03/03/08)
Williams was represented by the Georgia Innocence Project; read more about his case here.
Read more about the Innocence Project’s recommended policy reforms to compensate the wrongfully convicted here.
Tags: Georgia, Willie Williams, Exoneree Compensation
The incalculable price of misidentification
Posted: March 5, 2008 2:05 pm
As Georgia lawmakers advance compensation for Willie “Pete” Williams, a column in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls for eyewitness identification reforms to prevent the injustice Williams suffered from happening to anyone else. The Innocence Project has worked with partners in Georgia (including the Georgia Innocence Project, which represented Williams) to support eyewitness identification reforms, but today’s column details the troubled road of this legislation and the compromises that appear necessary in order to get the bill passed.
You'd think that legislators would rush to find remedies that would at least lower the number of wrongful convictions.All seven Georgia exonerees were convicted based partly on eyewitness misidentification, read more about their cases here.
You'd be wrong. So far, little has come from the efforts of Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield (D-Atlanta) to improve procedures for eyewitness identifications in criminal investigations. The bill is stuck, even though all seven of the exonerated were wrongly convicted largely on the basis of faulty eyewitness identifications.
Benfield first introduced a bill to standardize eyewitness IDs two years ago, but she met fierce resistance from police and prosecutors. When the legislation was assigned to a study committee, usually a sign that a bill has little support, Benfield faithfully shepherded it through, tacking and trimming to placate critics.
Now, the bill contains just two mandates: By 2009, Georgia law enforcement agencies must develop written procedures on how to administer eyewitness identifications; and by 2011, an officer trained in those best practices must supervise eyewitness ID procedures. But Benfield's bill is still stuck in the Rules Committee, where it awaits a date for a vote on the House floor.
Read the full column here. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 03/05/08)
Has your state enacted eyewitness reforms? Find out on our interactive map.
Tags: Georgia, Willie Williams, Exoneree Compensation
California exoneree continues to fight for compensation
Posted: March 6, 2008 10:16 am
James Ochoa served 10 months in a California prison for a carjacking he didn’t commit. He pled guilty to avoid a possible life sentence. In 2006, DNA evidence proved his innocence and exonerated him. He has applied for compensation under state law, but documents obtained by the Innocence Project show that state officials are seeking to deny Ochoa his compensation because he pled guilty.
A final decision is expected at the April 17 meeting of the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board, but a proposed decision says that “Ochoa has not met the statutory requirements to receive compensation under Penal Code section 4900 because he contributed to his conviction by pleading guilty.”
Ochoa has argued that he pled guilty to avoid a possible life sentence. Scott Baugh, a former California lawmaker who authored an amendment to the compensation law, told the Los Angeles Times last June that Ochoa should definitely be compensated under the law.
"I find it outrageous," Baugh told the Times "that you can force someone into a Hobson's choice of 25 years to life or pleading to a crime he didn't commit and spending two years in prison, and call it a voluntary decision. Even if the judge said nothing, he's facing 25 years to life or a two-year plea bargain.”
Read more about Ochoa’s case here.
In a report issued last month, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice specifically addressed the guilty plea loophole: “The exception should not include those who were victims of false confessions or improperly induced guilty pleas. It should be limited to those who intentionally subverted the judicial process.”
Read the full CCFAJ report here.
Tags: California, James Ochoa, Exoneree Compensation
Florida Exoneree May Finally Be Compensated
Posted: March 11, 2008 2:05 pm
Alan Crotzer, who was exonerated through DNA testing in Florida in 2006, may finally receive compensation through a special bill in the Florida Legislature that would pay him $1.25 million for the more than 24 years he spent in Florida prisons. The 2007 legislative session ended without passing the bill. Crotzer is one of nine people exonerated through DNA evidence in Florida, only one of whom has been compensated.
"From Al's perspective, finally having a glimmer of hope - to me, that's a hallelujah," said Michael Olenick, Crotzer's attorney.The special “private” bill applies only to Crotzer and does not include provisions for the other eight Florida exonerees who have not been compensated. It also does not create a system for compensating people who are exonerated in the future. Florida is one of the 28 states that do not have a compensation statute.
Read the full article here. (Palm Beach Post, 03/11/08)
In addition to the bill to compensate Crotzer, the Florida Legislature is considering a bill that would pay $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration for exonerees, but only if they have no prior felony record. The Innocence Project of Florida is urging legislators to drop the provision about prior felonies. None of the 22 states with compensation laws have provisions about prior felonies that prevent innocent people from being compensated for the years or decades they lost to a wrongful conviction.
Read more about Crotzer’s case here.
Tags: Florida, Exoneree Compensation
For some exonerees, the "sentence goes on"
Posted: April 28, 2008 1:11 pm
An article on the front page of today’s Washington Post explores the struggles endured by people cleared of convictions and released from prison but not officially exonerated for years, if ever. At least a dozen people in Illinois have been exonerated by evidence proving their innocence but have not received an official pardon from the governor’s office. Illinois is one of 23 states with a compensation statute, but a pardon is required before compensation can be paid. One woman – Tabitha Pollock – served six years in prison before her conviction was overturned. She applied for a pardon in 2002 and hasn’t heard anything.
When the authorities do not certify innocence, "in effect, the sentence just goes on," said Stephen Saloom, policy director of the Innocence Project. Noting that legislators are recognizing "the lingering problems" of the exonerated after their release.
"A recent trend is not only to compensate at a monetary value per year incarcerated, but also to provide immediate services upon release," said Saloom, who said the project's clients spent an average of 11 years in prison. Advocates say the exonerated need help making the transition back into society, especially finding a job.What’s your state’s stance on exoneree compensation? View our interactive map here.
It's not enough to let the person out of prison," Saloom said.
Read the full article here. (Washington Post, 04/28/2008)
Tags: Illinois, Marcus Lyons, Exoneree Compensation
Editorial: Fair, straightforward compensation needed in Florida
Posted: April 29, 2008 2:10 pm
Florida is one of 27 states with no law compensating the wrongfully convicted upon their exoneration. Last month, lawmakers approved a bill compensated Alan Crotzer $1.25 million for the 24 years he spent in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, but the bill was for him only, making him the second Floridian to receive state compensation after exoneration. Another Florida exoneree, Wilton Dedge, received a similar state compensation package.
The state desperately needs a universal compensation law, and lawmakers are considering one right now. But there are serious problems with the Florida bill in its current state, and an editorial in today’s Daytona Beach News-Journal details some of these problems:
Both House and Senate versions deny compensation to anyone with another felony conviction -- even if the other conviction is relatively minor. This so-called "clean hands" provision is a cruel excuse to perpetrate injustice.
The fact that someone has a prior conviction does not make a wrongful conviction any less wrong. In fact, the existence of a prior conviction increases the possibility of injustice: Police sometimes focus an investigation on someone who's already been in trouble with the law, to the exclusion of other more likely suspects.
Crotzer's case provides a perfect example of how unfair this provision can be. Before he was wrongfully convicted of robbery and rape, he stole beer from a store. While in prison, he was convicted of a drug offense. Both crimes were relatively minor and would draw relatively short prison terms -- if any. Yet under this proposal, he would be barred from compensation for his 24 years behind bars.
Read the full editorial here. (Daytona Beach News-Journal, 04/29/08)
Tags: Florida, Alan Crotzer, Wilton Dedge, Exoneree Compensation
“Fatally flawed” compensation bill advances in Florida, California exoneree settles for $500K
Posted: May 1, 2008 4:22 pm
Florida lawmakers voted on Tuesday to advance a bill compensating the wrongfully convicted for each year they spent in prison before their exoneration, but restrictions on the bill exclude too many people. The bill would pay some exonerees $50,000 per year served, but it excludes anyone with a prior felony conviction. This would include Alan Crotzer, who spent almost 25 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. He was convicted of stealing beer from a convenience store before his wrongful conviction, and that would disqualify him. Crotzer will be paid $1.25 million by the state after lawmakers passed a bill specifically written for him. While the Innocence Project has commended Florida legislators for addressing this important issue, the provision about unrelated prior felony convictions falls far short of the state’s obligation to compensate the wrongfully convicted.
Eric Ferrero, spokesman for the national Innocence Project, said the clean hands provision is a ''fatal flaw.'' He said that of the 23 states that have compensation laws for the wrongfully incarcerated, none disqualify people based on unrelated prior felony convictions.
''Prior convictions have nothing to do with the fact that an innocent person was wrongfully convicted,'' Ferrero said. ``They have paid their debt to society for prior convictions but society has not paid its debt to them for a separate and unrelated wrongful conviction.''
Read the full story here. (Miami Herald, 04/29/08)
In other news, California exoneree James Ochoa has reached a tentative settlement in his lawsuit against Buena Park, California for his wrongful conviction. Ochoa spent 10 months in prison for a carjacking he didn’t commit before DNA cleared him. He also received approval recently to receive $30,000 in state compensation. Read more here.
Does your state have a compensation law? Find out here.
Tags: Florida, Alan Crotzer, Exoneree Compensation
Florida's Wrongful Incarceration Act restricts compensation for exonerees
Posted: May 13, 2008 5:00 pm
The Wrongful Incarceration Act which recently passed in the Florida Legislature and is pending signature from the Florida Governor, offers $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration to exonerees. Only three of the nine people exonerated through DNA testing in the state of Florida have received compensation for the time they served unjustly. Both Wilton Dedge and Alan Crotzer endured months of battling with the State Legislature before receiving compensation through private bills that applied only to them. A third Florida exoneree, Jerry Frank Townsend, just received a settlement last week after fighting for compensation since his release in 2001.
Several of those who have not yet been compensated would be restricted from receiving funds through the Wrongful Incarceration Act because of a “clean hands” provision which disallows compensation for anyone with an unrelated prior felony conviction. None of the other 23 states that provide compensation to the wrongfully convicted restrict funds in this way.
An article in the Tallahassee Democrat outlines the controversy around the bill:
Advocates for the wrongfully incarcerated say they will wait to see how the process works, but they have doubts whether all the proven innocent will be compensated.
"You're innocent when we release you but you're not innocent enough to be compensated?" said Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida. "These two ideas just don't jibe together."
Read the full story here.
Tags: Florida, Exoneree Compensation
Florida exoneree receives settlement
Posted: May 14, 2008 12:20 pm
Miami city commissioners recently agreed to pay Jerry Frank Townsend a $2.2 million settlement as a result of his wrongful conviction of six murders and one rape despite his dubious confessions. Townsend served over 21 years for crimes he didn’t commit in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.
The main evidence against Jerry Frank Townsend: his own confessions. But those confessions were fundamentally flawed. Townsend has an IQ of 58, making him vulnerable to police coercion. Following his 1979 arrest, he was questioned for five days by Miami police and the Broward Sheriff's Office, without an attorney present.
Prodding by both police departments led Townsend to claim responsibility for a host of crimes in Miami-Dade County, Broward County -- even California. Townsend's confessions were rife with inconsistencies, but he was sent to prison anyway.
Read the full Miami Herald article here.Townsend’s lawsuit against the Broward County Sheriff’s Office still stands. Meanwhile the Florida Governor is expected to sign a new bill into law that would provide $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration to Florida exonerees. However, the law would render several of those waiting to be compensated ineligible for the funds.
Learn more about Jerry Frank Townsend’s case here.
Learn more about Florida’s “Wrongful Incarceration Act” here.
Tags: Florida, Exoneree Compensation
Editorial: Florida compensation law falls short
Posted: June 2, 2008 4:38 pm
An editorial in yesterday’s Orlando Sentinel says that Florida lawmakers didn’t go far enough when crafting the state’s new law compensating the wrongfully convicted upon exoneration. The bill would pay some exonerees $50,000 per year served, but it excludes anyone with a prior felony conviction. The Innocence Project has called this provision a “fatal flaw,” and the Orlando Sentinel agrees, calling it unfair.
It's not as if giving automatic compensation to these people would cost the state a lot. Only nine Floridians have been freed by DNA evidence. But seven won't qualify for automatic compensation because of that provision.Does your state have a compensation law? View the map here.
There's a chance to make it right during the next session by eliminating that clause. Why? Because it's the right thing to do.
Read the full editorial here. (Orlando Sentinel, 05/31/08)
Tags: Exoneree Compensation
A turning point on exoneree compensation?
Posted: June 17, 2008 4:50 pm
A new feature article on the Innocence Project website today focuses on recently passed compensation laws in Connecticut, Florida and Utah, and other bills pending across the country. As public awareness of wrongful convictions grows, so does the momentum to help the exonerated build new lives after their release. Today 25 states have exoneree compensation laws, though even many of those laws are inadequate. With your help, we can reach the other 25 states in the coming years. Get involved today.
Tags: Exoneree Compensation
Illinois exonerated waiting for pardons
Posted: June 23, 2008 3:10 pm
DNA exoneree Marlon Pendleton of Chicago is among 1,600 people waiting for a decision from Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on his application for a pardon. Pendleton, who served 10 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, is seeking to clear his name and collect about $140,000 under the state’s exoneree compensation law.
"They say once you pay your debt to society, it's over," said Pendleton, his voice bristling with anger. "But I didn't even owe a debt to society, and I paid it, and it's not over."A former federal pardon official said the pardon backlog in Illinois may be the nation’s largest, and a federal district judge ruled recently that Blagojevich must decide on pardon applications “within a reasonable period of time."
Read the full story here. (Chicago Tribune, 06/23/08)
Tags: Illinois, Marlon Pendleton, Exoneree Compensation
North Carolina lawmakers seek to improve exoneree compensation
Posted: June 25, 2008 3:50 pm
A bill pending before the North Carolina House of Representatives would increase the compensation paid to exonerees by the state to $50,000 per year served, from $20,000. The proposed bill would also extend services to exonerees – an essential facet of bills helping the exonerated rebuild their lives. It includes provisions for free tuition at state universities and community colleges and a year of job training. The compensation paid to exonerees would be capped at $750,000.
Dwayne Dail was exonerated last year after serving 18 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. He received $370,000 in compensation.
"I can take this day and start my life now," Dail said the day he was released. "Today is the first day of the rest of my life and I'm absolutely going to make the most of it."Watch a video interview with Dail here.
Read the full story here. (News 14 Carolina, 06/25/08)
Exoneree compensation bills have gained momentum in several states in recent weeks - read more here.
Tags: Dwayne Dail, Exoneree Compensation
Louisiana exoneree to receive $150K in compensation
Posted: July 7, 2008 3:25 pm
Rickey Johnson, who was freed in January after serving 25 years in Louisiana’s Angola prison for a rape he didn’t commit, will receive $150,000 in compensation from the state for his wrongful incarceration. While Johnson says that no amount of money could ever replace the years he lost, he is looking forward to using the money to start a new business making leather goods such as belts and wallets.
“Rickey Johnson lost more than a quarter of a century, nearly his entire adult life, to a wrongful conviction. He had three young children when he was arrested, and a fourth was born shortly after he was incarcerated; all of those children are now adults,” said Vanessa Potkin, the Innocence Project staff attorney representing Johnson.
Read the full story here. (Leesville Daily Leader, 07/07/08)
Watch a new Innocence Project video of Johnson and fellow Louisiana exoneree Calvin Willis reuniting after Johnson’s release.
Johnson’s compensation comes under a state law that pays exonerees $15,000 for each year they served, to a maximum of $150,000. While Louisiana is one of 25 states with a compensation law, the amounts provided in the law are well behind the federal standard of $50,000 per year served, with no maximum. Several states, including Texas, Utah and Florida, have recently passed laws matching the federal amount, and the Innocence Project strongly supports efforts by lawmakers to bring state compensation laws in line with federal recommendations to include critical social services as well as financial payments.
What’s the law in your state? Find out on our interactive map.
Tags: Louisiana, Rickey Johnson, Exoneree Compensation
NC lawmakers approve compensation increase
Posted: July 22, 2008 3:57 pm
The North Carolina legislature voted Friday to increase the compensation paid to the exonerated after their release to $50,000 per year served, from $20,000. The bill, which would increase the maximum payment to $750,000 and bring North Carolina in line with the federal standard for an annual compensation amount, now goes to Gov. Mike Easley for his signature. The bill also includes critical services for men and women released from prison after serving years for crimes they didn't commit. They could receive a year of job training and tuition at a state college or university.
"What I want to you to think about is if your child were accused of a crime and were sent to prison as Dwayne Dail and others have been," Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, a Carrboro Democrat, told her colleagues in the Senate.Pictured above: Dwayne Dail served 18 years in North Carolina prison for a crime he didn't commit before his exoneration last year. He received $370,000 in compensation earlier this year, but will now be eligible for an additional $380,000.
Read the full story here. (News Observer, 07/19/08)
Tags: Exoneree Compensation
North Carolina improves exoneree compensation
Posted: August 7, 2008 3:40 pm
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley this week signed a bill greatly improving the compensation and services the state provides to the wrongfully convicted after their release. The new law, effective immediately, increases the compensation paid to the exonerated from $20,000 per year served to $50,000 per year. The maximum payment is $750,000. The new law also provides job training and free tuition to state colleges and universities.
25 states have exoneree compensation laws. What’s the law in your state? Find out here.
Pictured: Dwayne Dail served 18 years in North Carolina prison for a crime he didn't commit before his exoneration last year. He received $370,000 in compensation earlier this year, but will now be eligible for an additional $380,000. Dail was featured this week in an article on Officer.com, a news magazine for law enforcement professionals. Read the article, entitled “When the Innocent Become Victims,” here.
Tags: Dwayne Dail, Exoneree Compensation
Gov. Schwarzenegger can’t wait another year
Posted: September 11, 2008 4:00 pm
Cross-posted from The California Progress Report
By Herman Atkins
Over 20 years ago, a woman was brutally raped and robbed in a shoe store in Riverside. To this day, no one knows who committed the crime. But because of other people’s mistakes, I spent almost 12 years in prison for his crime—until the Innocence Project used DNA to prove I was innocent. Even though I lost 12 years of my life and suffered the indignities and horrors of more than a decade in California’s prisons, I am one of the lucky ones. For most people, there is no DNA to prove their innocence and no free lawyers to help them.
Four bills that would help reduce wrongful convictions in California were introduced in the legislature this year, and two have finally made it to the Governor’s desk. The state’s budget crisis killed the other two bills even though they had very moderate price tags. Nonetheless, the two bills on Gov. Schwarzenegger’s desk are important first steps and he must sign them now.
Failing to enact these reforms puts public safety at risk. As in my case, when an innocent person is convicted, the investigation stops and the real perpetrator is often never found. We cannot wait one more year to take action to reduce wrongful convictions.
The first bill, SB 1589, would require corroboration for jailhouse informant testimony. Informants have good reasons to lie: they are getting something in exchange for what they say. Yet, they are persuasive. In fact, informants are the leading cause of wrongful convictions in death penalty cases. We already require corroboration for co-defendant informants; SB 1589 simply extends that same precaution to jailhouse informants.
The second bill, AB 2937, would provide more services to wrongfully convicted people and remove some of the hurdles to compensation for the innocent. Currently, wrongfully convicted people receive even less assistance than parolees who actually committed the crime. Indeed, my wife and I have established a foundation to provide assistance to wrongfully convicted people because the state does nothing. As the chair of the Council for the Wrongfully Convicted, I had the opportunity to testify before the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice about the difficulties we face after exoneration. My testimony led the Commission to recommend the reforms in this bill.
Also known as the Arthur Carmona Justice for the Wrongfully Convicted Act, AB 2937 is named after a brave young man who was wrongfully convicted at just 16 years old, and whom I had the opportunity to work with before he was tragically killed earlier this year. Arthur and I shared a couple of things in common: we were both wrongfully convicted based on mistaken eyewitness identification and police misconduct, and we also both had loving and dedicated families who fought for and supported us. Even with our strong support systems, we both struggled to cope with life outside of prison with virtually no help from the state that took our best years from us.
The Arthur Carmona Act would change that by ensuring that wrongfully convicted people have the same access to resources that ex-offenders receive when released from prison. It would also require that criminal records relating to a wrongful conviction are sealed, and would remove procedural hurdles to compensation for the factually innocent.
All of these reforms are based on recommendations by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, which spent the last three years studying our justice system and developing recommendations to make it better and more accurate. The Commission was created by the Senate in 2004, and the legislature has even passed similar bills based on the Commission’s recommendations in the last two sessions. But Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed these bills in the past, causing even a commentator on Foxnews.com to lead with the headline: “Schwarzenegger Vetoes Justice.” Now the Governor can redeem himself, at least partially.
The bills that did not make it to the Governor this year, SB 1591 and SB 1590, would have addressed two other common causes of wrongful convictions – eyewitness misidentification and false confessions. Mine was a case of eyewitness misidentification, so I understand the need for reform, and am disappointed that our budget crisis has once again gotten in the way of justice.
Every year that goes by without these reforms, we risk sentencing more innocent people to prison or even the death penalty, we let guilty people go free, and we continue the cycle of injustice by failing to help the wrongfully convicted who are released. Justice cannot wait one more year; Gov. Schwarzenegger must sign the bills in front of him today.
Please contact Gov. Schwarzenegger and urge him to sign SB 1589 and AB 2937.
Herman Atkins lives with his family in Fresno California. He is the founder of the LIFE Foundation, which provides immediate support to wrongfully convicted people on release from prison. He is also the chair of the Council for the Wrongfully Convicted, a coalition of innocent men and women who were wrongfully imprisoned. His story is one of eight featured in the acclaimed documentary, Life After Exoneration. He is a frequent lecturer and public speaker on wrongful convictions and the struggles of the wrongfully convicted on release.Read Herman's last post on the Innocence Blog.
Tags: California, Exoneree Compensation, Informants/Snitches
Illinois lawmakers take exoneree compensation into their own hands
Posted: September 23, 2008 5:25 pm
Illinois legislators this week voted to override a veto by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, improving the compensation the state pays to the wrongfully convicted after their release. The state’s former law, originally passed in 1945, was deeply flawed, with tiny payments for the exonerated and a requirement to wait for a pardon from the governor in order to receive compensation. Blagojevich has been notoriously slow in processing pardon applications.
The new compensation law pays the exonerated up to $200,000, and provides critical job search and job placement services.
Rob Warden, the executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions in Chicago, wrote about the new law today on the Huffington Post.
In a reversal of political stereotypes, the Republican Ryan, who left office in 2003, was sensitive in the way his successor, the Democrat Blagojevich, hasn't been to the predicaments in which the exonerated typically find themselves upon leaving prison: impoverished and, still officially classified as ex-cons, veritably blacklisted from employment opportunity.Read the full story here. (Huffington Post, 09/23/08)
Tags: Exoneree Compensation
Five years free, and still no compensation
Posted: September 23, 2008 5:15 pm
Today marks the fifth anniversary of Calvin Willis's exoneration in Louisiana. After serving 21 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Willis was finally released when post-conviction DNA testing excluded him as the perpetrator of a 1981 rape.
In June 1981, an intruder entered a home in Shreveport, Louisiana, where three girls (aged 7, 9, and 10) were sleeping. The 10-year-old awoke to a man standing above her. The attacker proceeded to choke her and banged her head against the wall. The victim fled to the back yard, but the perpetrator caught up, kicking her in the stomach. During the struggle, the victim lost consciousness and was sexually assaulted. Police were not contacted until the next morning, when a woman returned to the house.
Although police said one of the girls identified Willis as her attacker, the girl later said she never saw Willis’ photo and she did not identify him in court. He was also considerably smaller than the attacker described to police by the girls. A rape kit was collected from the victim, and semen from the perpetrator was identified, showing that the perpetrator must have type O blood. Calvin Willis has type O blood, as do 49 percent of African-American men in the United States. This evidence was presented at Willis’ trial to show that he could have been the attacker.
In 1998, the Innocence Project began to search for evidence in Willis’ case. DNA testing on items from the crime scene proved that another man was the attacker and led to Willis’ release on September 18, 2003. He was officially cleared on September 23, 2003.
Upon his release Willis said, "People don't know what exonerated is. When you have been in prison for 20 years there is a stigma. I am going to file for a full pardon from the governor." Two years after Willis was exonerated, Louisiana passed a law compensating the wrongfully convicted for $15,000 per year served, up to a maximum of $150,000. (The federal standard is $50,000 per year.) Willis, however, has yet to be compensated.
Watch a video interview with Willis and his friend, exoneree Rickey Johnson, here.
Find out if your state offers compensation and how you can help here.
Other exoneration anniversaries this week:
Monday: Chester Bauer (Served 8 Years, Exonerated 9/22/1997)
Saturday: Frederick Daye (Served 10 Years, Exonerated 9/27/1994)
Tags: Calvin Willis, Exoneree Compensation
Sunday morning – CBS examines life after exoneration
Posted: September 26, 2008 3:19 pm
A feature on “CBS News Sunday Morning” this week will examine the difficult the difficult adjustment faced by the men and women who are proven innocent and freed from prison after serving decades for crimes they didn’t commit.
Interviewed on the program will be Innocence Project clients Thomas McGowan (who served 23 years in Texas for a rape he didn’t commit) and Larry Peterson (who served 16 years in New Jersey for a murder he didn’t commit). Also featured will be Beverly Monroe, who was released in 2002 after serving 10 years for a murder she didn’t commit, and her daughter, Katie Monroe, the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center. Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld will discuss the broader issues people face after they are exonerated and the government’s obligation to provide financial compensation and social services.
Find out when the show airs in your city.
Read more about life after exoneration.
Tags: Thomas McGowan, Larry Peterson, Exoneree Compensation, Life After Exoneration
A Case for Compensation in Nebraska
Posted: November 7, 2008 4:15 pm
Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers this week on called on lawmakers to consider passing a law compensating the wrongfully convicted after their release. Chambers told the Omaha World-Herald this week:
“It’s an issue of fairness, when the state wrongfully jails someone, it should compensate that person for the loss of their freedom. Simple justice would indicate that something ought to be done for someone who’s gone through this.”Chambers is leaving office at the end of this year, but he said he would ask another Senator to introduce legislation in 2009 to address compensation. Lawmakers in Nebraska would have to consider issues such as who qualifies as exonerated, how much compensation is fair, and what process needs to be done to obtain it. Chambers’ proposal comes on the heels of the release of Thomas Winslow and Joseph White, who were cleared by DNA testing last month. They were the first defendants in Nebraska history freed due to DNA testing, but their exonerations aren’t yet official.
Compensation statutes exist in 25 states, as well as in the District of Columbia. In 2004, Congress passed a law granting exonerated federal prisoners up to $50,000 a year in compensation (and up to $100,000 per year for those who were on death row). This federal legislation urges states to follow suit. The recent trend in compensation statutes is to also provide the immediate assistance and services that the wrongfully convicted need and deserve to seek to successfully resume their lives.
Read the full article here. (Omaha World Herald, 11/04/08)
Does your state have a compensation law? Find out here.
Tags: Nebraska, Exoneree Compensation
No Compensation for Six Prisoners Cleared in Nebraska
Posted: November 18, 2008 3:50 pm
Three people freed recently in Nebraska after serving 20 years in prison for a murder they didn’t commit will take on the challenge of building a new life without financial support or services from the state.
Thomas Winslow, Joseph White and JoAnn Taylor were cleared in recent weeks in Nebraska after DNA testing pointed to another man in the 1985 murder for which they were convicted. Three other co-defendants were released from prison in 1994 after serving their complete sentences.(The Innocence Project is currently reviewing the cases of all six defendants to determine whether they can be included in our database of DNA exonerations nationwide.)
Nebraska is one of 25 states without an exoneree compensation law, so there are no state services available to the exonerated.
Innocence Project spokesman Eric Ferrero said compensation for wrongful convictions is needed because re-entering society after serving prison time is difficult, even with an exoneration.
"Some people don't have family support or any network of supports when they get out," he said. "They often get out with no money, no job experience — other than prison jobs — and they often lack the skills to get reintegrated into society and rebuild their lives."
Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 11/18/08)
Tags: Nebraska, Exoneree Compensation
Rob Warden: Wrongful Conviction Tab Tops $100 Million
Posted: December 19, 2008 3:15 pm
Rob Warden, director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions in Chicago, writes today in the Huffington Post that settlements from civil lawsuits in wrongful conviction cases have cost Illinois taxpayers $100 million. Until taxpayers begin to hold their government accountable for reforming the criminal justice system, they will continue to foot the bill for the injustice suffered by countless citizens, he writes.
The only accountability has been the taxpayers' -- perhaps deservedly so, given that it is they who have tolerated, and continue to tolerate, widespread police and prosecutorial malfeasance.
None of the police and prosecutors who were actually responsible for the misconduct that led to the awards ever have paid a single cent.
Read Warden’s full post here. (Huffington Post, 12/19/08)
Tags: Exoneree Compensation
Most Nebraskan State Senators Support or Are Unsure About Compensation Law
Posted: January 5, 2009 2:00 pm
Even after three Nebraskans were found to have been wrongfully convicted and spent almost 20 years for a murder they did not commit, many state senators are undecided about compensation laws in Nebraska.
Nebraska is one of 25 states without a compensation statute. In a survey of state senators conducted by the Associated Press, 14 senators were in favor exoneree compensation, and five were against. However, 20 senators were undecided and 10 did not take part in the survey, which comes on the heels of the "Beatrice 6" case, in which Thomas Winslow, Joseph White and Ada JoAnn Taylor were cleared of all charges in the 1985 murder and rape of Helen Wilson in Beatrice, Nebraska. (Three others had also been arrested and convicted but finished serving their sentences in 1994. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said he intends to pursue full pardons for all six.)
According to the AP, State Senator Tony Fulton said that compensation is “the right thing to do,” adding that it should go beyond financial compensation and could include help with employment and education. However, those who voiced uncertainty about compensation in the AP survey argue that the state's current economic condition may have to take priority over compensation for the wrongfully convicted. Others, including Senator Russ Karpisek questioned where funds for compensations would come from:
“This is a tough one,” Karpisek said. “Although they should get help to start their lives over, where does the money come from? How much money would make a difference? Would the judicial system be afraid to jail people in fear of possible compensation?”
Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 12/29/08)Even when states do have compensation laws, they often fall far short of the federal standard for monetary amounts and don’t include critical state services. Click here to find out how your state stacks up.
To learn more about the need for exoneree compensation nationwide, visit our Fix the System section.
Tags: Nebraska, Exoneree Compensation, Life After Exoneration
Mississippi Adopts Exoneree Compensation Law
Posted: March 31, 2009 5:03 pm
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour signed a new state law yesterday compensating the wrongfully convicted upon their release. The law pays the exonerated $50,000 for each year they served in prison after being convicted of a crime they didn't commit – up to a maximum of $500,000. Unlike some other states, however, the new law does not provide any services – such as job training, health care or counseling – upon exoneration. Read the full text of the law here.
Mississippi is the 26th state in the U.S. to pass a law compensating the wrongfully convicted. Efforts are also underway to pass new compensation bills in Nebraska and New Jersey and to improve an existing bill in Texas. Although Georgia does not have a law compensating the exonerated, state lawmakers have been working in recent weeks to individually compensate John Jerome White, who spent more than two decades in prison for a crime he didn't commit.
Read more about these developments here.
And view our interactive map to learn about the laws in place in your state.
Tags: Mississippi, Exoneree Compensation
Reforms Move Forward in Texas
Posted: April 29, 2009 2:13 pm
An editorial in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News calls for quick passage of a bill in the Texas Senate that would increase the compensation paid to exonerees after their release. The new bill would increase the maximum amount paid by the state to the exonerated to
$80,000 per year served for a wrongful conviction, and includes the option of monthly annuity payments for life. The bill, named for deceased exoneree Timothy Cole, passed the House last week and is currently pending in the Senate. From the editorial:
Without this measure, the state will continue committing a double injustice to these people – once for their wrongful imprisonment and again for the failure to help them rebuild their lives once they're set free. Two wrongs make the Timothy Cole Act the right thing to do.Read the full editorial here. (Dallas Morning News, 4/28/09)The Austin American-Statesman joined this week with an editorial of its own.
Meanwhile, Texas lawmakers are also considering requiring law enforcement departments in the state to adopt written procedures for eyewitness identification. Exoneree Johnnie Lindsey recently testified on behalf of this effort – watch a video featuring Lindsey here.
Tags: Exoneree Compensation, Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification
Texas Compensation Bill Heads to Governor's Desk
Posted: May 14, 2009 5:29 am
The Texas House passed an amended bill today to improve the state law compensating the wrongfully convicted after their release. The new bill, which would become law with a signature from Gov. Rick Perry, pays exonerees $80,000 per year they spent in prison for crimes they didn’t commit and includes credit for tuition at state colleges and universities. The bill would also pay $25,000 per year an exoneree spent outside of prison on parole for a crime they didn't commit - a first in the nation. An earlier version of the bill also included health care, but that was removed in a Senate amendment.
The bill would represent a significant increase in compensation paid to the exonerated, from the current law, which provides $50,000 per year. Texas is one of 27 states with exoneree compensation laws, is yours one?
The legislation is named for Timothy Cole, who was posthumously exonerated this year after DNA proved that he had been wrongfully convicted in 1986. He died of a heart attack in prison in 1999 and DNA testing finally proved his innocence in 2008.
"It is a landmark bill," (Innocence Project Co-Director Barry) Scheck said. "For a fixed damage award, it's the highest in the country."
Read more about today’s developments. (Associated Press 5/14/09)CBS Evening News reported on Cole’s case and the Timothy Cole Compensation Act on Saturday:
In 1985, a serial rapist attacked five women near Texas Tech University. Among his victims was then 20-year old sophomore Michelle Mallin.
"It's constantly in my mind all the time," Mallin said recently.
Cole, a 25-year-old college student was convicted, largely because Mallin identified his picture in a photo lineup.
"I honestly thought it looked like him," she said.
Read the full story and watch the video here. (CBS Evening News, 5/9/09)
Tags: Timothy Cole, Exoneree Compensation
Texas Compensation Could be Retroactive
Posted: May 20, 2009 6:02 pm
As we’ve written here, a bill awaiting the signature of Texas Gov. Rick Perry would increase the amount of state compensation paid to the exonerated upon their release and would also pay exonerees for time they served on parole. But the bill would also assist a group that has been eligible for no compensation under state law – those exonerated before the state passed its first compensation law in 2001.
When Joyce Ann Brown and Lenell Geter were cleared in Texas (by evidence other than DNA) in the 1980s, they were not eligible for state compensation. State Sen. Rodney Ellis, who sponsored the bill and serves as the Innocence Project Board Chairman, has said parts of the bill are retroactive and that he will reach out to people who are potentially eligible.
Brown served more than nine years of a life sentence for a 1980 robbery and murder at a fur shop. She was released in late 1989.Also pending in Texas is a bill to create a state innocence commission to review wrongful convictions and evaluate reforms to address the causes of injustice. A bill creating the commission has passed the House and is pending in the Senate. Read more here.
Geter served 16 months of a life sentence for a 1982 wrongful conviction for the armed robbery of fast-food businesses. He was cleared in 1984.
"When I was released, you had to fight [to be compensated]. ... I have never received a dime," said Brown, who founded and directs Mothers (Fathers) for the Advancement of Social Systems (MASS), a nonprofit that helps former prisoners re-enter society. She co-wrote the book Joyce Ann Brown: Justice Denied.
Geter sued former Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade, other authorities and municipalities including Greenville, where he was arrested. He received what he described as a small out-of-court settlement representing "about a year's salary" – close to the $24,000 he earned as a 26-year-old engineer in Greenville when arrested in 1982.
His and Brown's eligibility under the new bill, though uncertain, would be a salve on old wounds, said Geter, who now is a motivational speaker, youth mentor and the father of three daughters in Columbia, S.C. He wrote the book Overcome, Succeed & Prosper.
Read the full story here. (Dallas Morning News, 5/20/09)
Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation
Texas Increases Exoneree Compensation
Posted: May 28, 2009 1:38 pm
Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed the Tim Cole Act into law yesterday, increasing the amount of compensation the state pays to the exonerated to $80,000 per year of wrongful incarceration. The new law includes credit for tuition at state colleges and universities and will also pay $25,000 per year an exoneree spent outside of prison on parole for a crime they didn't commit – a first in the nation.
The bill is named for Tim Cole, who was posthumously exonerated this year after DNA proved that he had been wrongfully convicted in 1986. He died of a heart attack in prison in 1999 and DNA testing finally proved his innocence in 2008.
Perry, who met privately with Cole's family in April, called the bill a "necessary and appropriate measure to amend the miscarriage of justice."What's your state's compensation law? Find out here.
"You can never make these innocent men whole," said Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat who sponsored the measure. "They have lost important years of their lives, they have lost spouses and children have grown up without their fathers. We can't make them whole, but we can do better."
Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 05/27/09)
Tags: Exoneree Compensation, Life After Exoneration
Five Years After Exoneration, Lafonso Rollins is Giving Back
Posted: July 20, 2009 2:26 pm
Last week, Lafonso Rollins marked the anniversary of the day he walked out of an Illinois prison after serving 11 years for a rape he did not commit. Rollins was a 17-year-old special education student in the ninth grade when he was arrested, and he was convicted based largely on a false confession he had signed, but did not write. In 2004, DNA testing was finally obtained and conclusively proved Rollins’s innocence and he was released.
Rollins spoke to ABC7 Chicago about how his false confession was coerced by police. He said: “They came on hitting on me. They kept told me they were going to wring me out to dry if I didn't tell the truth… I was scared to death.” In addition to this alleged improper treatment by police, Rollins’ case was also plagued by improper forensic analysis and reporting.
In early 2006, Rollins filed a lawsuit against the City of Chicago for violating his civil rights. He eventually settled for $9 million, and the city pledged to investigate whether the police officers and crime lab who handled his case had engaged in wrongdoing. Rollins said his mission now is to use his freedom to help others.
“This is not my lottery ticket or anything,” he said. “Keep in mind, the most important thing right now is for everybody to focus on that, OK, I made it, I'm free, you know what I'm saying? It's over with. Make sure the next guy doesn't go through this heat."
Since then, Rollins has used portions of his settlement money to help free the innocent and prevent wrongful convictions. He started a foundation called Right the Wrong Complications. In one of his first donations, Rollins gave $10,000 to benefit Northern Illinois University Law School’s Innocence Project, which had provided him pro bono legal services during his incarceration.
More recently, Rollins donated another $10,000 to the rebuilding fund of a Chicago church after he saw it burn down on television. He cited his late father, a pastor who had died during his incarnation. "My father passed, and here is a church that I can help out and here this one is," said Rollins. "I thought this would be my chance to help out.”
Other Exoneration Anniversaries:
Steven Linscott, Illinois (Served 3 Years, Exonerated 7/16/92)
Steven Toney, Missouri (Served 13 Years, Exonerated 7/16/96
Joe Jones, Kansas (Served 6.5 Years, Exonerated 7/17/92)
Perry Mitchell, South Carolina (Served 14.5 Years, Exonerated 7/20/98)
Tags: Lafonso Rollins, Exoneree Compensation, Life After Exoneration
Uneven Compensation Leaves the Exonerated in Limbo
Posted: July 22, 2009 6:00 pm
As of today, 240 people have been exonerated by DNA testing in 34 states. They come from all walks of life and their experiences after exoneration are as diverse as they are. But they all share a common experience – they served years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. Rebuilding a life after exoneration is not easy, and the level of support offered to the exonerated varies greatly from state to state – and even sometimes within states.
Twenty-seven states offer some compensation to the exonerated after their release, but the compensation laws in these vary widely. Click here to find your state on our interactive map.
Even within some states, exonerees’ experiences after exoneration – and the services offered by the state – can take different paths. Georgia is one of the 23 states without a statewide compensation law, but several exonerees have been awarded compensation by the legislature in individual bills. As the Associated Press reported recently, however, Georgia exonerees Samuel Scott and Douglas Echols never received any compensation from the state for the injustice they suffered.
Seven years after DNA evidence exonerated Echols and Scott, neither has received a cent from the state of Georgia. Their appeal was doomed by the influential district attorney of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" fame who locked them both away in 1987 and is still not convinced they're innocent.Read more about the Innocence Project’s efforts to seek exoneree compensation in states across the country.
…"We're like ghosts," Scott said recently. "They want to pretend we don't exist."
…Like Echols and like most ex-cons, he's struggled to find steady work since he got out. He started a small landscaping business but has few customers these days. He had a line on a job waxing and cleaning floors that he says would have paid about $15 an hour, but when the company discovered he had a criminal record, it was a no go. He is two months behind on his mortgage.
Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 7/18/09)
Tags: Georgia, Douglas Echols, Samuel Scott, Exoneree Compensation
Friday Roundup: Cases and Reforms Move Forward
Posted: July 31, 2009 5:30 pm
Around the country this week, individual cases moved forward – as did efforts to reform the criminal justice system to prevent wrongful convictions and assist the exonerated.
A judge in Wisconsin this morning dismissed rape and murder charges against Ralph Armstrong, who has been in prison for 28 years. Evidence shows that a prosecutor concealed substantial evidence that Armstrong was innocent. Armstrong will remain in custody while the state decides whether to appeal the ruling. The Innocence Project has worked on Armstrong’s case since 1993, and Co-Director Barry Scheck today called Armstrong’s case a “particularly chilling” example of prosecutorial misconduct.
Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County may be the home of pilot programs for identification reforms, according to District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr., who chairs the county’s investigations section of the state Committee on Wrongful Convictions. The news comes on the heels of the Innocence Project’s new report on eyewitness identification reforms, released earlier this month. Read more in the press release here.
Republican and Democratic leaders are asking Virginia’s General Assembly to provide compensation for exoneree Arthur Whitfield, who spent more than 22 years in prison and was released when DNA tests proved his innocence. Bob McDonnell and Creigh Deeds, the respective Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates, are calling for action during the assembly’s special session in August.
DNA may play a key role in the case of a Florida man convicted of murder 25 years ago. David Johnston was scheduled for execution in May, but the Florida Supreme Court delayed his execution when defense attorneys requested DNA testing on blood samples and nail clippings kept as evidence.
Tags: Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, Arthur Lee Whitfield, Exoneree Compensation, Eyewitness Identification
Virginia Man to Receive $632,000
Posted: August 20, 2009 2:40 pm
We reported Tuesday that Virginia lawmakers were returning to the capitol for a special session and would consider proposals to compensate Arthur Lee Whitfield, who served 22 years in state prisons before DNA testing proved his innocence. He was freed in 2004, but has not been compensated due to a legal technicality – he was refused a writ of actual innocence because the state’s highest court didn’t have the power to grant it to non-prisoners. Lawmakers on Wednesday unanimously approved payment of $632,867 to Whitfield, based on the formula in the state’s compensation law. He will receive $126,573 within a month and the remainder as an annuity.
Whitfield , 54, was recently diagnosed with liver cancer and missed the special session because he was receiving chemotherapy. He works in a produce factory and has been struggling financially.
Only about half of the 241 people exonerated by DNA testing to date have been compensated.
Read more about Whitfield's case and life after exoneration.
Tags: Arthur Lee Whitfield, Exoneree Compensation
New Texas Compensation Law Takes Effect
Posted: September 4, 2009 1:10 pm
A new state law takes effect in Texas this week compensating the exonerated with $80,000 for each year they spent in prison. The bill also includes services such as job training, tuition credits and access to medical and dental treatment, and it compensates the exonerated both for time spent in prison and for time on parole (at a rate of $25,000 per year). Although Texas is one of 27 states with an exoneree compensation law, no other state provides this level of social services or compensates the exonerated for years on parole (often as registered sex offenders).
Thomas McGowan, who met recently with the victim in his case who misidentified him and the lead officer in the investigation, said he is looking forward to receiving compensation to help him rebuild his life.
"I'm nervous and excited," said McGowan, 50. "It's something I never had, this amount of money. I didn't have any money — period."
Read the full story. (Associated Press, 9/4/09)
Tags: Thomas McGowan, Exoneree Compensation
New Report: States Failing to Help the Exonerated
Posted: December 2, 2009 6:05 pm
A report released today by the Innocence Project finds devastating gaps in the support and services that states provide to people exonerated after serving years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.
Only about 60% of the 245 people exonerated through DNA testing in the United States have been compensated, and the vast majority of them waited years for very small amounts of money and received no support services.
Read the Executive Summary and download the full report.
“When people are exonerated, they should find a safety net, not another long legal battle,” Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom said today in announcing the report. “States have a responsibility to restore innocent people’s lives to the best of their abilities; every single state needs to pass a comprehensive compensation statute without further delay.”
The report examines staggering shortcomings in the monetary compensation and services provided to exonerees after their release.
Some facts from the report:
• 27 states have some form of compensation law on the books, 23 states lack them entirely.
• Compensation laws vary widely across the country, from New Hampshire’s maximum payment of $20,000 regardless of the number of years a person served to the $80,000 per year paid by Texas.
• Only six states meet the federal standard of $50,000 per year.
• 81% of the exonerees who have been compensated were paid less than the federal standard.
• On average, it takes exonerees three years to access compensation funds.
Read today’s press release and access the full report here.
Tags: Exoneree Compensation
Ten Great Moments of the Decade
Posted: December 30, 2009 11:00 am
It goes without saying that DNA testing and the issues surrounding wrongful convictions have left their mark on the criminal justice system in the last ten years. When the decade began, DNA testing had been used in American courtrooms for more than 11 years, but exonerations were still fairly rare.
In the last ten years, 182 people have been exonerated through DNA testing and states have passed dozens of laws addressing the causes of wrongful convictions. Yet there is plenty of work to do — countless innocent people remain behind bars as we pass into 2010 and the threat of wrongful convictions in today’s courtrooms is still very real.
As we look forward to freeing more innocent people than ever in the decade ahead and enacting major reforms to prevent wrongful convictions, here is a list (in chronological order) of 10 seminal moments from the 2000s.
"Actual Innocence” is published (2000)— Written by Innocence Project Co-Directors Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, with Jim Dwyer, this groundbreaking book examines the emergence of DNA testing and the causes of wrongful conviction it unveiled. During the decade, it became a blueprint for overturning wrongful convictions and reforming the criminal justice system.
Larry Mayes becomes the 100th Exoneree (2001) — Mayes spent 21 years in Indiana prisons before DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project and the Innocence Project at the Indiana University School of Law proved his innocence and led to his release.
Illinois clears death row (2003) — Pointing clearly to the frightening rate of exonerations in his state (since 1977, 13 death row prisoners had been cleared while 12 had been executed), Gov. George Ryan granted blanket clemency to all 167 people on death row on January 10, 2003.
Congress passes the Justice for All Act (2004) — The JFAA is the most significant legislation to ever address wrongful convictions in the United States. It provides an avenue for federal prisoners to seek DNA testing and funds incentives for states to offer similar testing and to improve DNA testing capacity. It also provides compensation for federal exonerees.
“After Innocence” premieres (2005) — An award-winning documentary chronicling the lives of seven men released from prison after serving years for crimes they didn’t commit, After Innocence brought the issue of wrongful convictions to America’s movie theaters and living rooms. Watch a trailer here.
“The Innocent Man” published (2006) — John Grisham’s first non-fiction book tells the heartbreaking story of a murder in Oklahoma and an unimaginable injustice suffered by two innocent men. The book reached best-seller status around the world and a film version is in development. Following the book’s publication, John Grisham joined the Innocence Project’s board of directors. Several other excellent books also chronicled wrongful conviction cases during the decade, check back tomorrow for the decade's must read list.
Jerry Miller becomes the 200th Exoneree (2007) — It took 12 years to exonerate the first 100 people through DNA testing. It was just seven years later that Innocence Project client Jerry Miller became the 200th person exonerated through DNA. He served 25 years in Illinois prisons before he was cleared.
Dennis Fritz and Peggy Carter Sanders Dance on Stage (2008) — the history of criminal justice in the United States is filled with poignant moments of injustice overturned, from tear-filled homecomings to stirring speeches and courtroom victories. One of the most memorable is the moment Dennis Fritz, who was exonerated after 11 years in prison for an Oklahoma murder he didn’t commit, unexpectedly danced onstage with the mother of the murder victim at a New York event. Watch this touching moment on video here.
50th Member Joins the Innocence Network (2008) — the Innocence Network is an international affiliation of groups working to overturn wrongful convictions. As the field has broadened over the last 10 years, more organizations have been created to meet the growing need for pro bono legal services and advocacy. In 2008, the Innocence Network reached a membership of 50 organizations, today there are 54.
National Academy of Sciences releases forensic report (2009) — Faulty forensic evidence played a role in more than half of the wrongful convictions later overturned through DNA testing. Many forensic techniques used in courtrooms today have never been subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation. In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences released a landmark report calling for the U.S. federal government to create a federal entity to oversee and support the forensic disciplines. Learn more here.
Photo: Innocence Project client Luis Diaz was exonerated in Florida in 2005 after 25 years in prison for a series of crimes he didn't commit. Courtesy South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Forensic Oversight, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing, False Confessions, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics, Informants/Snitches, Bad Lawyering, Government Misconduct, Eyewitness Misidentification
Advocates Seek Innocence Commission and Compensation Reform in Florida
Posted: February 22, 2010 6:10 pm
Efforts to pass significant wrongful conviction reforms are gaining steam in steam in Florida.
We reported earlier this month that State Sen. Mike Haridopolos had asked the Florida Supreme Court to form an innocence commission, which would review exonerations in the state and recommend measures to prevent future injustice.
Another effort is underway to repeal a so-called “clean hands” provision, which restricts exoneree compensation only to people who had a felony conviction before or during their wrongful incarceration.
The Miami Herald last week called on the state legislature to remove the clean hands provision from the law, saying that a minor felony shouldn’t lead an exoneree from missing their due compensation. The Herald also made a strong call for the creation of an innocence commission.
Another editorial last week, in Florida Today, also called on the state Supreme Court to create an innocence panel, saying “one wrongful conviction is too many, but the growing number in Brevard (County) and across Florida is a plague that can't be ignored.”
The Innocence Project of Florida, a member of the Innocence Network, is advocating on behalf of both of these reforms. Visit the IPF blog here.
Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation
Timothy Cole Officially Pardoned
Posted: March 1, 2010 3:30 pm
UPDATE: Today, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed the official pardon for Timothy Cole, marking the first posthumous pardon in Texas history.
In a statement, Perry said: “I have been looking forward to the day I could tell Tim Cole’s mother that her son’s name has been cleared for a crime he did not commit,” Gov. Perry said. “The State of Texas cannot give back the time he spent in prison away from his loved ones, but today I was finally able to tell her we have cleared his name, and hope this brings a measure of peace to his family.”
Read more here.
Timothy Cole was wrongfully convicted of rape more than two decades ago and died in prison in 1999, at the age of 39. Last year, DNA testing proved his innocence, and now the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles is recommending that he be fully pardoned. If the governor follows through, Cole’s case will be the state's first posthumous pardon.
On Friday, the board notified the Innocence Project of Texas that it voted to recommend clemency. The board forwarded its decision to Gov. Rick Perry for his signature. In an e-mail to The Associated Press on Saturday, Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle wrote, "Gov. Perry looks forward to pardoning Tim Cole pending the receipt of a positive recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Paroles."
Years after Cole’s death, an investigation by the Innocence Project of Texas led to DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene. The test results proved Cole’s innocence and implicated another man, Jerry Wayne Johnson, who had begun writing letters in 1995 confessing to the crime. Last year, the Innocence Project served as co-counsel at an unusual court hearing to clear Cole’s name after his death, and a judge declared him innocent.
Cory Session, who has been fighting to clear his brother's name for years, said he anticipates that the governor will sign Cole's pardon in March during a ceremony in Fort Worth. Session said he hopes that his brother’s case helps people understand that just because people come into court underfunded and underrepresented, it does not necessarily mean that they are guilty. "The question is: How many more Tim Coles are out there?" he told the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
Last year, the Texas Legislature passed the Tim Cole Act, increasing compensation to people who have been wrongfully convicted from $50,000 to $80,000 for each year of imprisonment.
Eyewitness misidentification and unvalidated forensic science led to Cole’s arrest and wrongful conviction when he was a 26-year-old Army veteran studying business at Texas Tech in 1985. The victim in Timothy’s case, Michele Mallin, has since come forward to raise awareness about misidentifications, forensic science reform and wrongful convictions. Mallin has joined Cole’s family in working to posthumously exonerate him.
In an op-ed piece in the Houston Chronicle last year, Mallin urged Congress to create a federal entity to strengthen forensic science nationwide. “I put my faith in the criminal justice system, and it failed me,” she wrote, “I have learned a great deal over the last year -- about myself, about Cole and about our system of justice. One of the most troubling things I've learned is that juries often hear evidence that is not as solid as it sounds.”
Learn more about unvalidated and improper science – and sign the petition calling on Congress to take action – here.
Read more on Timothy Cole’s case here.
Tags: Texas, Timothy Cole, Exoneree Compensation
Jury Awards New York Exoneree $18.5 Million
Posted: October 20, 2010 6:28 pm
In 2005, following urging by the Innocence Project, the district attorney’s office found the rape kit after an exhaustive search. Post-conviction DNA testing finally proved Newton’s innocence.
Since his release is 2006, Newton enrolled and completed his studies at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York and now works as a research associate at the Black Male Initiative of the City University of New York. He has plans to enroll in law school later this year, having already taken the admissions test.
“I want to work with people that really need that legal assistance that’s just not there for them,” he said. “There are so many issues where people need competent counsel, and it’s just not out there. I think I’ll jump into it with both arms.”
Asked if he planned to celebrate his verdict, Mr. Newton said he was in no rush.
“There’ll be time for celebration, but there are some other things to take care of,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of patience in my life. I’ve learned not to rush anything. Good things take time. This decision took time, but it was worth every moment.”
Newton was represented by the Law Office of John F. Schutty III who argued that the Police Department’s system for storing and tracking post-conviction evidence showed a reckless disregard for Newton’s constitutional rights
The Innocence Project has represented about 50 people from New York City in the last five years and only half received the DNA evidence requested from the city. In the other cases, the city fell short of producing any evidence or did not know what had happened to it.
Read the full New York Times article.
Read more about Newton's case here and watch a video interview with him below:
Tags: Alan Newton, Exoneree Compensation
Report: Compensation Tax Lifted for the Wrongfully Convicted
Posted: November 16, 2010 5:50 pm
The IRS based the previous rule on an exoneree who spent a short time behind bars. Glasheen and other
advocates explained to the IRS that the wrongfully convicted typically spend several years trying to prove their innocence before being exonerated and that long-term wrongful imprisonment can have a dramatic effect on the exonerees' physical well-being.
At present, Texas compensates its exonerees with more money than any other state with $80,000 for every year of imprisonment and pays for up to 120 hours of tuition at a public college or career center.
Read the full article.
Download the IRS ruling.
Read about exoneree compensation and find out if your state has a compensation statute.
Tags: Exoneree Compensation
Three Ohio Exonerees Adjust to Life Outside of Prison
Posted: November 22, 2010 4:35 pm
Towler’s story captured the attention of the CEO of Medical Mutual, who contacted the Ohio Innocence Project to see if he needed employment. After going through the standard hiring process, Towler now works for the company, and his colleagues say he has had a positive impact.
Last week, Towler’s attorney reached a tentative agreement with the Ohio attorney general's office for $2.57 million, which if approved by the Court of Claims, would be the largest wrongful conviction settlement in state history.
But exonerees aren’t given a manual about how to save and spend when they receive a settlement, and only 27 states plus D.C. having compensation statutes in the first place.
Read the full article.
Does your state have a compensation statute?
Read McClendon’s case profile.
Read Fears’ case profile.
Read Towler’s case profile.
Tags: Joseph Fears, Robert McClendon, Raymond Towler, Exoneree Compensation
Exoneree Compensation Still Years Off in Washington
Posted: January 19, 2011 5:47 pm
Washington is one of 23 states without a law compensating the exonerated. If passed, the proposed bill would resemble the federal standard for such laws – including $50,000 for each year behind bars, plus an additional $50,000 for each year served on death row. Orwall’s bill also includes $25,000 for each year the exoneree was registered as a sex offender or was under community supervision. The legislation would also guarantee free tuition at state schools for the wrongfully convicted and their children and provide healthcare and pay child support claims accrued during incarceration.
With his child support topping more than $100,000, Northrop can’t afford to wait until 2014. Even with the state Department of Social and Health Services waiving its share of Northrop’s balance as part of its program for forgiving child support bills in hardship cases, Northrop still owes tens of thousands of dollars he was unable to earn due to the wrongful conviction.
Meanwhile, Northrop is struggling to save up enough money for a car so he can keep his $12-an-hour job at a metal fabrication shop in Vancouver. He lives in Ridgefield with his girlfriend, a former classmate with whom he became re-aquainted last spring.
"They owe us - somebody does," he says. "I'm struggling right now. I need every penny."
Read the full story.
Find out if your state has a compensation law.
Tags: Alan Northrop, Exoneree Compensation
The Long Road to Compensation
Posted: May 23, 2011 5:17 pm
Although his first trial resulted in a hung jury, the verdict in a second trial sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the verdict because Brandley was found to have been the victim of racial prejudice, witness intimidation and perjured testimony, reported Your Houston News.
"We have to follow what’s set in law," said R.J. DaSilva, a spokesman for Comptroller Susan Combs.
The Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code requires that, in order to be compensated, a former inmate must have received a pardon of innocence by the governor or have been granted relief by the court "on the basis of actual innocence," the letter states.
"The court order that was submitted with Mr. Brandley’s claim did not meet the actual innocence requirement" of the statute.
DaSilva also said that Brandley waited too long to apply for compensation, only filing within the past few months.
He was released at the end of 1989 and the law requires a person seeking compensation to file an application no later than the third anniversary of their prison release.
Since 2001, when the fund that compensates wrongfully imprisoned people in Texas was founded, the state has paid out $37.4 million to 70 people through the fund.
Read the full article.
Innocence Project Report: Making Up for Lost Time.
National View: 27 States Have Compensation Statutes: Is Yours One?
Read more about compensating the wrongfully convicted.
Tags: Texas, Exoneree Compensation
Friday Roundup: Compensation, Real Perpetrators and the Death Penalty
Posted: January 20, 2012 1:00 pm
Tags: Ohio, Texas, Washington, New York, Exoneree Compensation, Forensic Oversight, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics, Life After Exoneration, Death Penalty, Real Perpetrator
CNN Reports: Many Exonerees Have Not Been Compensated
Posted: March 26, 2012 4:35 pm
Tags: Washington, Alan Northrop, Exoneree Compensation
Wrongfully Convicted Nebraska Man Is Compensated after 57 Years
Posted: September 5, 2012 3:20 pm
Eighty-year-old Darrel Parker, who was wrongfully convicted of the 1955 murder of his wife and sentenced to life in prison, was formally declared innocent on Friday and will finally be compensated. Parker was paroled in 1970— after his confession was deemed coerced — and pardoned in 1991, reported the Freemont Tribune.
“You never give up hope, you never give up hope,” an emotional, 80-year-old Parker said at a news conference, flanked by his lawyers and the attorney general. “I tell people, ‘Now, I can die in peace.’”
The state had just agreed to stop fighting Parker’s wrongful conviction lawsuit. Instead, Attorney General Jon Bruning apologized, admitted Parker was wrongly convicted and announced the state would pay him $500,000 — the maximum allowed by law.
“It became crystal clear that Mr. Parker is innocent,” Bruning said. “This was the most important thing I could do as attorney general, to right this wrong.”
Parker continued to seek a full exoneration upon his release and hoped DNA testing would prove his innocence, but he eventually learned that most of the evidence in his case had disappeared. He remarried, worked for the Illinois Parks Department, and later took a job at a law firm. Although he managed to rebuild his life, Parker waited decades to receive an apology for the injustice. It is only now that the state has admitted Parker’s innocence that he can receive compensation.
About one-third of the nearly 300 people exonerated by DNA testing have not been compensated. Without immediate assistance in many states, even exonerees who receive compensation wait an average of three years before funds are awarded.
Read the full article.
Read about compensation for the wrongfully convicted.
National View: 27 States Have Compensation Statutes: Is Yours One?
Tags: Illinois, Exoneree Compensation
Chicago to Pay Multimillion Dollar Settlement in Another Burge Case
Posted: January 15, 2013 4:05 pm
Tags: Illinois, Exoneree Compensation
Washington State Considers Compensation Bill
Posted: February 19, 2013 2:30 pm
Tags: Washington, Alan Northrop, Exoneree Compensation
New Jersey Legislature Passes Compensation Bill
Posted: March 22, 2013 1:45 pm
Tags: New Jersey, Exoneree Compensation
Washington State Still Considering Compensation Bill
Posted: April 8, 2013 4:10 pm
Tags: Washington, Alan Northrop, Exoneree Compensation
New Jersey Exoneree Pushes to Increase Compensation for Wrongfully Convicted
Posted: April 22, 2013 2:00 pm
Tags: New Jersey, David Shephard, Exoneree Compensation
Colorado Exoneree to Receive Compensation
Posted: May 20, 2013 12:45 pm
Tags: Colorado, Robert Dewey, Exoneree Compensation