Posts Tagged ‘compensation’


Today in Wrongful Conviction History: December 14th

Alejandra de la Fuente — December 14, 2016 @ 11:11 AM — Comments (1)

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Today is the exoneration anniversary of Philip Bivens, Larry Ruffin, and Bobby Ray Dixon.

In 1979, all three men were wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of a woman in Forrest County, Mississippi. All three gave confessions to the police under the threat of the death penalty. Despite the inconsistencies in their confessions with each other and with the evidence in the case, they were sentenced to life in prison.

In 2010, the Innocence Project New Orleans and co-counsel Rob McDuff obtained DNA testing that effectively excluded all three of the men convicted and instead pointed towards a different man altogether.

Sadly, Ruffin died in prison in 2002 and Dixon passed away from lung cancer in November of 2010. Neither got to witness their official exoneration on December 14th, 2010 when a Forrest Count Grand Jury declined to indict the three men.

In January of 2013, a federal wrongful conviction lawsuit was filed against the Forrest County law enforcement officials for coercing the three men’s confessions. Although Bivens passed away in 2014, the state agreed to pay $500,000 to the estate of Ruffin and $375,000 each to the estates of Bivens and Dixon in 2015. Earlier this year, Forrest County has settled the federal lawsuit for a total of $16.5 million.

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Man Receives 6.42 Million in Wrongful Conviction Lawsuit

Alejandra de la Fuente — October 25, 2016 @ 4:00 PM — Comments (0)

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This week we congratulate former Greensboro resident LaMonte Armstrong for being paid 6.42 million dollars by the city of Greensboro, North Carolina because of his wrongful conviction in 1995.

Armstrong was exonerated in 2013 of a murder he did not commit. From the start, the case against Armstrong was shaky. The charges against him rested on testimony from Charles Blackwell, a police informant who later revealed he was paid $200 dollars for his testimony and later threatened with jail time for the murder if he didn’t testify.

In 2010, the case crumbled when Blackwell recanted his testimony and admitted to the detective misconduct rampant in the investigation. The Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic took on the case in 2011 and discovered through DNA testing that a palm print found at the scene of the crime did not match Armstrong but a convicted felon who had briefly been a suspect in 1992.

After Armstrong was exonerated, the state gave him $750,000 in compensation as well as a governor’s pardon from Pat McCrory. However, because of the aforementioned detective misconduct, he filed a lawsuit against the city of Greensboro in 2013. On October 21th of this year, Armstrong and his attorney David Rudolf won the case 5-1.

Armstrong currently works as a peer counselor at a Durham nonprofit that helps substance abuse survivors and people caught up in the criminal justice system. “It seems to me that the more I continue to be of service to my fellow man and help people, the more that God continues to serve me,” Armstrong told N&R Greensboro.

Although money will never be able to give LaMonte Armstrong the years he lost in prison, compensation is an important part of helping victims of wrongful conviction find justice and rebuild their lives after prison. To find out more about Florida’s own compensation laws and how you can help, be sure to follow the link below.

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Man Awarded $15 Million in Wrongful Conviction Settlement

Alejandra de la Fuente — October 03, 2016 @ 1:23 PM — Comments (0)

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After spending 20 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit, Rodell Sanders has received a 15 million dollar settlement in compensation for his wrongful conviction in the 1993 murder of Philip Atkins in Chicago Heights.

On December 15th, 1994, Atkins and his girlfriend, Stacy Armstrong, were shot and left for dead in Chicago Heights. Due to Armstrong’s eyewitness testimony (despite the attacker being tall and thin and Sanders being 5’8” and 200 pounds) and a jailhouse informant who later revealed he received cash payments for testifying, Rodell Sanders was arrested and convicted to 80 years in prison.

This, however, didn’t stop him from giving up. Sanders spent years sending out Freedom of Information requests to learn more about his own case and review trial transcripts. “I didn’t want to die in prison. I wanted to make it back out to my family, and I wanted to expose the Chicago Heights Police Department for exactly what they were,” Sanders told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Sanders’ perseverance, courage, and diligence paid off because, years later, the chief of police in Chicago Heights during the time of the case was convicted, along with six other police officers, of bribery and extortion for taking money from gang leaders and using their position of power to take out the gang’s competitors.

Once this new information reached the public, Sanders dedicated himself to his exoneration and making the state grant him a re-trial. Sanders poured over law books and trial transcripts all to write his own appeal in efforts to get his case back on the court floor. With the help of the University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project, Sanders returned home to his family in July of 2014 after two separate re-trials.

“I don’t know if you can really say it makes things right because I can never get back those 20 years they’ve taken from me,” Sanders said to the Chicago Tribune. “There are many, many things that I’ve lost, and they can never be given back, so no, it doesn’t make it right.” However, at the very least, it allows victims of wrongful conviction to be able to rebuild their lives, families and hope in a new and sometimes unfamiliar world. Now, Sanders works for Loevy & Loevy, the very law firm that represented him during his fight for compensation. He dreams of helping other people who have been wrongfully convicted seek justice.

State compensation for wrongful convictions is an up-hill battle and Sanders’ success can be seen as an exception, not the norm, to the trying efforts of many to receive compensation for their decades spent behind bars. Currently, only 13 states provide any services for exonerees after they have been released from prison. If you want to help the efforts of expanding state compensations and encourage the justice system to give back to its victims, follow the link and sign the pledge!

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Man Wrongfully Convicted of Rape and Robbery Denied Exoneration

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 30, 2016 @ 12:24 PM — Comments (0)

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Lawrence McKinney was freed from prison in 2009 after DNA evidence overturning his 1978 conviction in Memphis, Tennessee. He was wrongfully convicted of rape and burglary and sentenced to 100 years for the rape and 10-15 for the burglary. After 31 years in prison, Lawrence finally saw the promise of freedom in the horizon. However, despite being released and having his record expunged, Lawrence was not officially exonerated of his conviction.

Now, Lawrence’s efforts have been tarnished by a Tennessee parole board who claims that the evidence isn’t sufficient for them to recommend the governor formally exonerate him and make him eligible for compensation. The vote was 7-0 against his innocence, reports AP.

Lawrence’s legal team, which includes Lorna McCulsky from the Innocence Project, states that they plan to request the exoneration directly from Gov. Bill Haslam, bypassing the usual (but not required) board recommendation process. If McKinney is exonerated, he would be eligible for compensation up to $1 million dollars due to his wrongful conviction. Tennesee has only paid compensation to two previous exonerated men before and so, Lawrence’s uphill battle continues as he fights after decades of injustice.

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Lawrence McKinney Granted Exoneration Hearing

Kate Mathis — July 25, 2016 @ 1:00 PM — Comments (0)

Last month, an article was posted to our blog about Lawrence McKinney’s request for exoneration and Tennessee State Representative Mark Pody’s frustration with how long that process was taking. Now, some progress has finally been made, as the Tennessee Board of Parole recently granted McKinney an exoneration hearing.

The board is responsible for reviewing applications such as McKinney’s and gives recommendations to the governor, who makes the final decision on exoneration requests. If McKinney is exonerated, it will make him eligible to file for compensation for his wrongful conviction.

David Raybin and Jack Lowery, whom Pody referred to as “good legal representation,” will represent McKinney at the upcoming hearing, which is scheduled for September 27.

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Alfred Dewayne Brown Determined Ineligible for Wrongful Conviction Compensation by Texas Comptroller

Kate Mathis — June 09, 2016 @ 1:00 PM — Comments (0)

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.

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Exoneree Granted More Time to Decide on Judge’s Lowered Compensation

Kate Mathis — April 05, 2016 @ 1:00 PM — Comments (0)

Alan Newton has experienced a series of unfortunate events, starting with his wrongful conviction for a vicious sexual assault in 1985. After spending 22 years in prison, he was finally exonerated in 2006 when DNA evidence cleared him. He was allowed to seek damages for only 12 of those years, however, because he was also convicted of the attempted rape of a nine-year-old girl. Despite claiming innocence for that crime, too, DNA evidence in that case was lost, so Newton cannot clear himself.

In 2010 a New York jury awarded Newton $18 million in compensation for the wrongful rape conviction. In 2011, however, Manhattan Federal Court Judge Shira Scheindlin threw out the jury’s verdict. The Second Circuit overturned that ruling in 2015, though. But on March 4, Scheindlin reduced Newton’s $18 million award to $12 million, claiming that compared to similar cases, the original amount was excessive. Not only did she cut the amount of compensation, but Scheindlin also ordered Newton to decide whether he would accept the money or face another jury trial on damages by March 25, giving him less than a month to make perhaps one of the biggest decisions of his life.

One thing has finally gone Newton’s way, however. His lawyer, John Schutty, recently filed an emergency petition with the appeals panel. Schutty requested that the court stay the judge’s deadline and review her decision, arguing that his client should not be forced to make such an important decision under such stressful circumstances. The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals Panel granted that stay and agreed to push back the deadline, writing that the stay would remain effective until the court disposes of Newton’s substantive motion. The decision came shortly after Scheindlin’s announcement that she is retiring. In addition, Schutty’s request for a temporary stay to and including April 8, 2016 has not been opposed by the city Law Department, giving Newton more of the time he deserves to make such a crucial decision.

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Challenges Experienced by the Innocent After Exoneration

Samantha Adams — January 14, 2015 @ 3:15 PM — Comments (0)

For any released prisoner, regardless of guilt or innocence, the transition from jail to freedom is difficult. Ex-prisoners must re-adapt to the demands and social norms of every day life, all while dealing with the stigma that having been incarcerated brings. Yet, while many prisoners who are released on parole or at the expiration of their sentence have access to social workers, parole officers, halfway houses, and other services designed to guide them through this difficult transition, prisoners who are found innocent and exonerated are not eligible for these services. Keith Findley of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, in regards to the case of Forest Shomberg, who was exonerated in 2009 without access to any transitional services, sums up the issue nicely—

“If you’re guilty of a crime, you get more support from the state when you’re released than if you’re innocent.”

Although there are methods in place for exonerees to receive monetary compensation, either through state wrongful conviction compensation statutes or by filing civil rights claims, this is often a lengthy process that may not prove to be fruitful (as discussed in this previous blog post). In the meantime, the exoneree is left penniless and without the ability to support themselves. Frank Graves, exonerated in 2010 after being incarcerated for 18 years, laments

“I walked out from solitary confinement out onto the streets with nothing.”

This scenario is all too common for the wrongfully convicted in Florida, as the state releases exonerees with nothing more than the possessions they had on them when they entered the prison and a one-way bus ticket. The state does not acknowledge their own wrongdoing, or the difficulties that the exoneree will soon be facing in the outside world.

For example, exonerees often struggle to afford legal fees, medical bills, counseling, and other services that are necessary to get back on their feet. They face emotional challenges such as post-traumatic stress disorder or feelings of alienation from society and family members, as exemplified in this New York Times article about exoneree Jeffrey Deskovic. And because records are not always expunged and the charges for which the exonerees were wrongly convicted often received much public attention, exonerees face difficulties proving themselves worthy of employment, making it even more difficult to succeed.

In other words, the battle isn’t over once the innocent are exonerated; there is still much to be done to ensure their successful reintegration into society. One step being taken by the Innocence Project of Florida is the Exoneree Support Fund, which provides exonerees with support, food, clothing, shelter, and health services during their transition from incarceration to freedom. IPF was the first innocence organization to have a full-time social worker on staff to provide assistance to exonerees and to manage the Exoneree Support Fund. We have been fortunate to have been funded for the next three years by the Archibald Foundation of Tallahassee in support of the Exoneree Support Fund. By recognizing and addressing the difficulties inherent in the transition to freedom, we assert that we still care about the wrongfully convicted even when they are no longer behind bars.

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Motivated by Innocence, Jabbar Collins Awarded $13 Million

Marianne Salcedo — October 22, 2014 @ 10:56 AM — Comments (0)

Jabbar Collins was wrongfully convicted at age 20 of the murder of a rabbi in New York.  Highly motivated by his innocence, Collins, who dropped out of school when he was 16, spent countless hours in the prison library learning what he needed to know to request case documents and trial transcripts and represent himself pro se.  Last summer, with the help of his lawyer, Collins was awarded a $10 million settlement by New York City and another $3 million by the State of New York.

Attorney Joel Rudin, who represents Collins, says the $13 million total ties the record amount for a wrongfully convicted defendant in New York City.

In 1994, Collins was arrested for the murder of a rabbi in Brooklyn, New York, during a robbery.  The three witnesses who testified against him had been coerced and bribed by the prosecutor, although during Collins’ trial, the defense was assured that these confidential informants received nothing in exchange for their testimony.

Although a rogue prosecutor eager to “solve” a high-profile slaying is blamed for Collins’ conviction, his case provided support for claims that the office of former Brooklyn district attorney Charles J. Hynes didn’t adequately rein in prosecutors who broke the rules.

Under Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, who ran his election campaign on the promise that he would clean up the string of wrongful convictions and other shenanigans that occurred during Hynes tenure, the City and State of New York have paid out nearly $20 million and are currently being sued for more than $200 million.

 

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Exoneree Compensation Across the United States

Marianne Salcedo — October 03, 2014 @ 3:17 PM — Comments (0)

A Planet Money story from NPR that we missed last summer (June 2014) entitled, “When Innocent People Go to Prison, States Pay,” provides an excellent overview of compensation for wrongfully convicted exonerees in all fifty states.

Twenty-one states provide no money — though people who are exonerated can sue for damages. Twelve states and the District of Columbia award damages on a case-by-case basis. Another 17 states pay a fixed amount per year of imprisonment.

Amounts vary from $80,000 per year behind bars in Texas, to $5,000 per year in Wisconsin. Florida and six other states match federal compensation of $50,000 per year.  Not that any amount could make up for the horror and humiliation of being an innocent person wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, but it is something — especially considering that very few exonerees get any sort of an apology from the state.

Even more appalling, as this article notes, is the fact that states are willing to pony up some limited annual compensation in order to prevent innocent exonerees from suing for much greater amounts.  Many states require exonerees to give up the right to sue as a condition of receiving compensation.

At the Innocence Project of Florida our concern is that our state’s compensation law has a loophole known as the “clean hands” provision.

961.04 Eligibility for compensation for wrongful incarceration.A wrongfully incarcerated person is not eligible for compensation under the act if:

(1) Before the person’s wrongful conviction and incarceration, the person was convicted of, or pled guilty or nolo contendere to, regardless of adjudication, any felony offense, or a crime committed in another jurisdiction the elements of which would constitute a felony in this state, or a crime committed against the United States which is designated a felony, excluding any delinquency disposition;

(2) During the person’s wrongful incarceration, the person was convicted of, or pled guilty or nolo contendere to, regardless of adjudication, any felony offense; or
(3) During the person’s wrongful incarceration, the person was also serving a concurrent sentence for another felony for which the person was not wrongfully convicted.

So not only will a prior felony of petty theft or possession of marijuana make any exoneree, no matter how unjustly he or she was treated, ineligible for compensation, but if the inmate gets caught up in something while in prison–say badly injuring another inmate who has attacked or tried to rape them, they are also ineligible for compensation in the State of Florida.

In the best of all possible worlds, as Voltaire would say, states would show some recognition of and remorse for their mistakes that led to wrongful convictions and incarcerations of innocent men and women.  Instead, states begin by putting up roadblocks to protect their convictions, right or wrong, issue no apology to the men and women whose lives they have ruined, and then provide limited compensation to spare them from multi-million dollar lawsuits  And Florida adds another insult to the injury with its “clean hands” provision.  We ask the convicted to show recognition and remorse for what they have done; it is only fair to expect the states to do likewise.

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