In April, the state of Texas announced that Alfred Dewayne Brown, who requested nearly $2 million in compensation for his wrongful conviction, does not qualify as an exoneree who is eligible to receive money. State Comptroller Glenn Hegar explained that Brown was never formally determined to be “actually innocent” of the crime for which he was convicted and therefore, under Texas law, he does not meet the mandatory requirements for compensation. The law currently states that exonerees are eligible for compensation if they are granted a full pardon based on innocence, if they are ruled “actually innocent” by a court, or if their case is dismissed and are certified as “actually innocent” by a prosecutor.
Brown was convicted of capital murder for the fatal shooting of Houston Police Officer Charles Clark in 2003, who, along with store clerk Alfredia Jones, was killed during a check-cashing store robbery. Brown has maintained his innocence, however. His conviction was overturned on this day last year because the defense did not receive, as required by the rules of evidence, phone records that could have supported his alibi. The case was sent back to a lower court for a new trial, but the Harris County District Attorney’s Office determined that there was not enough credible evidence to retry Brown, and dismissed the charges.
Houston Police Officers’ Union officials remain confident that Brown is the prime suspect, but stated that too much time has passed and too many witnesses have recanted to proceed with a new trial. Ray Hunt, the union’s president, claimed that the compensation law was not written for instances in which witnesses are scared to or will not testify, but is rather intended for situations where the wrongfully convicted were cleared because of DNA or other such evidence. He went on to say that union lawyers determined Brown is not eligible for compensation after reviewing the law. The entire situation has stressed the union, which, hoping to gather information that could secure a conviction for Clark’s death, put up another billboard offering $100,000.
Brown’s attorneys intend to fight for compensation for the more than 12 years Brown spent on death row, and the case will probably end up back in court in order to determine the legal definition of “actual innocence.” Brown submitted a request in February for state money that exonerees usually receive to the Comptroller of Public Accounts, who serves as the chief accountant and treasurer for the state and is responsible under law for determining eligibility in cases like these. Attorney Neal Manne, upon receiving written notice of the rejection, was surprised by the comptroller’s decision to ignore the Texas Supreme Court. He claimed that the letter ignores both current state law and the right to compensation as clearly stated by the Texas Supreme Court.
Using a similar case in which another former inmate received state money, Brown’s attorneys plan to appeal to the state office and even file a lawsuit, if need be, to force them to compensate Brown. They are relying on Billy Frederick Allen’s case, in which he spent nearly 26 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. An appeals court ruled that the requirement for determining “actual innocence” was satisfied because of how strong the newly discovered evidence was in Allen’s case.
The controversy over the compensation law is not new, as state lawmakers have already changed it to allow other high-profile exonerees to receive compensation. The law was changed to make Anthony Graves, perhaps Houston’s most popular exoneree, eligible for compensation by allowing prosecutors to certify that he was “actually innocent.” Graves was convicted of capital murder in 1992 for killing six people and spent 20 years wrongfully incarcerated, 12 of which were on death row.
Brown’s attorneys think he is eligible for two types of compensation, one of which includes a lump sum of $973,589 based on a rate of $80,000 a year for his time spent in prison. The other involves the distribution of monthly payments in the same amount total for the remainder of Brown’s life. Brown could receive a total of $1.9 million for the 12 years he spent behind bars.
Brown received the support of Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis, who stood beside him when he announced in February that he would be seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction. Ellis stated that Texas owes Brown the money, and that if the state is willing to spend millions of dollars on a wrongful conviction and keep him on death row, then the least it can do following his release is make an effort to try and help him put his life back together.