Wrongful convictions an expensive proposition

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Wrongful convictions an expensive proposition

Post  Jennie on Thu Jun 19, 2008 9:13 pm

Wrongful convictions an expensive proposition

You can argue that it's morally outrageous when individuals lose days, months or years of their lives in prison after being wrongly convicted of committing a crime.

Imprisonment, after all, is meant to hold lawbreakers responsible for their own actions and to deter other wrongdoing by demonstrating that offenders will be caught and punished.

You can argue that it's legally absurd to lock up someone who didn't actually do the deed.

The legal system exists, after all, to find the truth and to enforce the rules fairly, accurately and appropriately. When the system fails, its credibility suffers -- and public confidence is essential.

You can argue that it threatens public safety to consider a criminal case closed when the accused who's been convicted and sentenced is not the real culprit.

The public depends, after all, on the proper incarceration of dangerous individuals. If the criminal justice system figuratively washes its hands once someone is found guilty, actual offenders remain free or unaccountable.

But for those who still aren't convinced by those worthy arguments that Texas needs more safeguards against wrongful convictions, there's still the bottom line.

And here's the black and white from the Texas comptroller's office: 45 people have been paid almost $8.5 million since 2001.

Under current law, a convicted individual who has been pardoned because of a wrongful conviction or has been declared actually innocent can apply to the Texas comptroller's office for compensation of $50,000 per year of imprisonment, $100,000 per year if in on a death sentence. (Before last year, it was $25,000 a year, up to $500,000.)

Among the 45 listed by the comptroller's office -- see the partial list that accompanies this column -- are 19 of the 35 Tulia residents whom Gov. Rick Perry pardoned in 2003 after an undercover agent whose testimony was used against them on drug charges was discredited. Their payments range from $14,500 to more than $106,000.

The problem with money is that it can't make up for lost time and the other life disruptions that accompany being wrongly accused, convicted and imprisoned. That's a whole other story.

Nor does the compensation that the state has paid account for what taxpayers put in on the front end of those prosecutions or to house prisoners who don't belong there.

You can make lots of arguments for improving the system. It's hard to argue against it.


These are the top 10 amounts cited by the Texas comptroller's office:

$1,000,000 -- Larry Charles Fuller, Dallas County: Spent almost 20 years in prison, convicted of a 1981 rape based on the victim's identification. Exonerated through DNA testing in 2007.

$608,333 -- John Michael Harvey, Tarrant County: Served almost 13 years of a 40-year sentence, convicted of molesting the 3-year-old daughter of a former girlfriend. Found actually innocent by courts after the girl recanted the accusation, released in 2004.

(Fuller and Harvey won't receive half their money until later this year because the law requires payment in 2 installments.)

$500,000 -- Billy Wayne Miller, Dallas County: Served more than 22 years of a life sentence, convicted of 1984 sexual assault. Exonerated through DNA testing in 2006.

$452,083 -- Arthur Merle Mumphrey, Montgomery County: Served 18 years, convicted of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl at knifepoint in 1986. Exonerated through DNA testing and pardoned in 2006.

$435,416 -- Carlos Lavernia, Travis County: Served 17 years of a 99-year sentence, convicted of aggravated sexual abuse largely on the victim's identification. Exonerated through DNA testing in 2000.

$429,166 -- Ernest Ray Willis, Pecos County: Served 17 years on death row, convicted of deliberately setting a fire in which 2 women died. A federal judge ruled that the state withheld evidence and improperly drugged Willis and that his lawyer was ineffective. A new investigation found the fire wasn't arson. Charges were dropped.

$391,666 -- Victor Larue Thomas, Ellis County: Served more than 15 years, convicted of raping a store clerk at gunpoint in 1985. Exonerated through DNA testing in 2001.

$387,499 -- Wiley Edward Fountain, Dallas County: Served 15 years, convicted of aggravated sexual assault in 1986. Exonerated through DNA testing in 2002. (CNN reported recently that he had become homeless and could not be found.)

$385,416 -- David Shawn Pope, Dallas County: Served 15 years of a 45-year sentence, convicted of raping a Garland woman at knifepoint in 1985. Exonerated through DNA testing in 2001.

$374,999 -- Calvin Edward Washington, McLennan County: Served almost 15 years of a life sentence, convicted of raping and killing a woman in 1986. Exonerated through DNA testing in 2001.

(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

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