Innocence Project of Florida to Establish Exoneree Emergency Fund
Donations Sought to Help Provide Basic Necessities to Exonerated Persons Released from Prison
On Tuesday, December 4, 2007, the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) announced the state’s 9th DNA exoneration with the release of Chad Heins, an innocent man who’d spent almost 14 years wrongfully incarcerated in Florida prisons. After multiple DNA tests proved Mr. Heins’ innocence, pointing instead to an unknown perpetrator, the State Attorney’s Office dropped all charges, leaving Mr. Heins free to fly home to Wisconsin to reunite with his family.
Unlike a guilty person who’s served his sentence and is released, Mr. Heins was not given even $100 or a bus ticket to send him on his way. When he walked free out of the Duval County Jail, he carried only a small packet of personal items, all of his worldly belongings. Chad Heins, like Florida’s other exonerees (persons released after wrongful imprisonment), was given nothing. Florida’s 8th exoneree, Larry Bostic, went straight from his wrongful incarceration to a Broward County Homeless Shelter, lacking a job to put food on the table or a stable roof over his head.
“Chad Heins, Larry Bostic and all exonerees have suffered more than we can even imagine,” said Seth Miller, IPF’s Executive Director. “And while we believe the State of Florida should be tripping over itself to compensate these citizens, we’ve come to realize that the reverse is true.” Only one of Florida’s nine exonerees has been compensated to date.
Today the Innocence Project of Florida announced the establishment of an “Exoneree Emergency Fund,” which will be used to provide crucial transitional services to Florida’s exonerees upon their release from wrongful imprisonment. “In my capacity as Chair, I have asked my fellow IPF board members to consider making individual contributions in an effort to help launch this emergency financial assistance fund, the proceeds of which will be made available to exonerees to help defray the costs of life’s necessities while they wait for the Florida Legislature to act,” said Mark Schlakman.
“The creation of the Exoneree Emergency Fund is so vital to help fill the void left by the State of Florida’s failure to give just compensation to these men, who have been victims of decades of injustice,” Miller said. He continued, “these innocent men know they can’t get back the years stolen from their lives, but while they are waiting for the State to do the right thing, they should not be reduced to living in homeless shelters. Surely they deserve the basic necessities of life — food, clothing, shelter. It’s the least we can do.”
People wishing to contribute to the Exoneree Emergency Fund can mail their donations to: Exoneree Emergency Fund, Innocence Project of Florida, Inc., 1100 East Park Avenue, Tallahassee, FL 32301. You can also contribute on the Project’s Web site at http://www.floridainnocence.org/support_online.html. Donations should be made payable to Innocence Project of Florida, Inc., and be sure to specify that you want your gift to go to the Exoneree Emergency Fund. (Online donors might need to send a separate email to that effect from the Web site.)
The following citizens have been exonerated through DNA testing but have not been compensated by the State of Florida:
- Orlando Boquete – Released May 23, 2006 / Served 13 years;
- Larry Bostic – Released September 21, 2007 / Served 19 years;
- Alan Crotzer – Released January 23, 2006 / Served 24.5 years;
- Cody Davis – Released March 9, 2007 / Served 5 months;
- Luis Diaz – Released August 3, 2005 / Served 25 years;
- Chad Heins – Released December 4, 2007 / Served 13+ years;
- Frank Lee Smith — Exonerated December 15, 2000 / Served 15 years (died in prison);
- Jerry Frank Townsend – Released June 15, 2001 / Served 21.5 years.
On August 11, 2004, after serving 22 years in prison, Wilton Dedge was exonerated and released from prison. He was compensated in December 2005. To date, Mr. Dedge is the only Florida DNA exoneree to receive compensation from the State of Florida.
To learn more about Chad Heins and Florida’s other DNA exonerees, please visit our website at http://www.floridainnocence.org.