Wyoming legislative committee considers compensation for inmates exonerated by DNA evidence

2013-05-13T18:00:00Z 2013-08-09T21:24:52Z Wyoming legislative committee considers compensation for inmates exonerated by DNA evidenceBy MEGAN CASSIDY Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

JACKSON — A state legislative committee endorsed a bill on Monday that would ensure compensation for prisoners exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing.

The bill states that if there is proof of innocence, a person will be entitled to $75 per day for every day he or she was in prison — up to a maximum of $300,000.

Natrona County District Attorney Michael Blonigen told the Joint Judiciary Interim Committee at a meeting in Jackson that the bill could limit the state’s liability in these rare but extreme situations.

“It’s a relatively low maximum payout of $300,000 ... where at the same time you could have it easily go into the millions of dollars,” he said.

Moreover, Blonigen said the state has an obligation to help these people get back on their feet after a mistake has been made.

“It’s not just legally smart, it’s a moral imperative that we do something to help these people,” he said.

The issue is particularly meaningful in light of the case of Andrew Johnson, who last month became the first Wyoming inmate to be released from prison based on post-conviction DNA testing. The Cheyenne resident spent nearly 24 years in prison after being convicted for a 1989 rape, but he is currently out on $10,000 bond as Laramie County prosecutors decide whether they will retry the case.

Jensie Anderson, Legal Director for the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, presented two stories of men who had been released with and without compensation after being proven innocent of crimes for which they were convicted in Utah.

The man who was released without compensation left prison with $109 in his pocket and was not afforded as much as a bus ticket. Anderson said the man is now destitute, transient and severely ill. Conversely, the other man was awarded about $120,000 and was able to fly home to his family, buy a piece of land and a car, get some health care and become a productive member of society.

“[The compensation] would at least allow them to end their struggle and begin a new life,” Anderson said.

According to a report from the Innocence Network, 27 states already offer monetary compensation for those exonerated by DNA evidence. Amounts vary by state, the presenters said, from $25,000 to $1 million.

At the conclusion of the session, committee Chairman Sen. John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, said the bill would move forward for consideration as a committee bill.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. Micky
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    Micky - May 14, 2013 4:29 pm
    The man was robbed of ever being able to get the material things he could have gotten if he had never been incarcerated. A decent place to live, a decent job, a car, healthcare, experiencing life in general cannot be compensated for a mere 300,000. Any man can make this work, but he would need guidance on how to make this money grow. Even at minimum wage today, this would not be enough to equal the amount of money he has lost all these years.
  2. HarlyD
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    HarlyD - May 14, 2013 3:15 pm
    12,500 a year, are you serious! I agree with pappy fair compensation is in order, but this is not fair at all.
  3. pappy
    Report Abuse
    pappy - May 14, 2013 8:31 am
    It's unfortunate that any innocent person has to go to jail but it happens. Lets remember that less than 1% of the people convicted are later found innocent. While you seem to want to blame LE you should remember that there is a judge, jury and defense attorney very much involved in these case. It might surprise you how many of these cases were plea bargains. You probably should also consider what kind of person this was before they were put in prison many were upstanding citizens. So lets compensate them fairly and quit blaming people for the great system we have. No where else in the world is anyone freed for a crime they didn't commit.
  4. mbudenske
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    mbudenske - May 14, 2013 6:17 am
    $300,000 just doesn't seem to be enough.
  5. ers
    Report Abuse
    ers - May 14, 2013 5:57 am
    Ie with charges against them there is no justice! The LEO community must be held accountable and the district attorneys with huge time behind bars themselves when a person is convicted wrongly! There seems to me that these two groups could and I feel do comspire at times to get a conviction no matter if the evidence showing innocence.
  6. ers
    Report Abuse
    ers - May 14, 2013 5:51 am
    The amount amount under discussion is not near enough in my opinion. Something else that should, no must be addresses is when the law enforcement withholds information that casts doubt upon the case of the state. If the district attorney and law enforcement is not sanctioned
  7. Completely Fed Up
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    Completely Fed Up - May 13, 2013 10:36 pm
    $300,000? What a joke. Anyone with a decent lawyer would get far more than that for having a life stolen away by a backward state, with its concomitant backward prosecuting attorneys.
  8. thehousemouse
    Report Abuse
    thehousemouse - May 13, 2013 8:52 pm
    I do not know what makes people unable to admit mistakes. But its a loss in more ways then one. Yes conviction rates are nice for the state. but the embarrassment of being wrong years later is worse. as in alot of cases. Perhaps things are to rushed when it come to convictions, a one size fits all mentality has replaced actual evidence. have we become such a fast food nation that even our own court systems have failed to give a fair trail, to accept all evidence and allow for real investigation work to be performed? wyoming is one of the last places that time is still on our side. We do have time and ability to teach how to invistigate, interpit and justify a means to an end. with sop real bad cases hitting our court systems, can we not take the time to so all these before we convict, sentence and destory a mans life?
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