Life After Exoneration

The wrongly convicted face further injustices when they are exonerated.  Unlike parolees, they are entitled to no social services, no job training and placement, no counseling to help them adjust to living in a dramatically different society than the one they left years earlier.  In many instances, family and friends who supported them have died.  Few states offer any financial compensation for their ordeal, and employers are wary of hiring them.

HOW THE EXONERATED ARE TREATED
These news reports illustrate the reception society gives innocent people when they are finally released, and underscore the need for resettlement programs.

Forest Shomberg, 41, is serving a 12-year prison term for a sexual assault in Madison, WI, a crime for which he has always professed innocence. At the heart of his appeal is the argument that the trial judge erred in disallowing testimony from an expert witness knowledgeable in the area of eyewitness identifications.  The victim agreed at trial with statements that she picked Shomberg because he was "the best of the six," even though "he very well could have not been the guy."  His fate now rests in the hands of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

UPDATE:  The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld Shomberg's conviction.

UPDATE:  11/13/09 -- Friday the 13th was the luckiest day Forest Shomberg has had in a long time. 
Judge Patrick Fiedler cited new DNA evidence and newly developed scientific research on faulty eyewitness identification in overturning his own judgment of conviction in the 2002 case.  Shomberg left the courthouse a Free Man.

UPDATE:  11/10/11 -- Two days short of two years after Forest Shomberg was exonerated and abandoned by the State of Wisconsin, he was sentenced in federal court for possessing a gun that he bought to commit suicide.  But this may be his best hope yet, since Judge Barbara Crabb structured his sentence to meet his treatment needs.  A heck of a way to get help.

UPDATE:  8/16/13 -- Forest lost his fight against depression and hopelessness.

Lebrew Jones: A Wrongful Conviction
Link to Multimedia Investigative Report by Christine Young
New York Times-Herald Record

UPDATE:  9/21/08 -- Murder victim's mother meets with Lebrew Jones.  "They've got the wrong man."

UPDATE:  11/20/11 -- Two years after being released on parole, his innocence claim forgotten by the State of New York, Lebrew Jones struggles to live in a Prison Without Bars.



Wisconsin Law Journal takes a look at life after exoneration in that state:
Putting Broken Lives Back Together
After the Door Opens

Los Angeles Times columnist Dana Parsons first jumped on Arthur Carmona's wrongful conviction for armed robbery in 1998.  Other journalists soon joined him.  "The kid is innocent!" they proclaimed, a cry that ultimately led to Arthur's release from prison -- exoneration remained out of reach as Orange County, CA District Attorney Tony Rackauckas continued to insist that Carmona was guilty.  And now, just as things were looking up in Arthur's life, comes the news: The Kid is Dead.

Rocky Mountain Innocence Center President Jensie Anderson and Executive Director Katie Monroe have been working Capitol Hill to push legislation that would compensate exonerated convicts for their time spent behind bars and provide an avenue for an inmate to be declared innocent without DNA evidence.   A big selling point for lawmakers: a chart showing how much money states without similar legislation had to pay to exonerated convicts who then filed lawsuits - amounts ranging from $300,000 to $15 million. The center argues its proposal to provide $40,000 for each year spent behind bars with an extra $30,000 a year for death-row inmates could save the state money.  Exoneration and Assistance Bill



Link
NPR
Larry Peterson:  Beyond Exoneration
Larry Peterson spent more than 17 years in prison for murder and rape before DNA testing led a judge to overturn his conviction. This special report chronicles the New Jersey man's long journey from incarceration to vindication.

Working from a list of DNA-exonerated prisoners provided by the Cardozo Innocence Project, the New York Times conducted the most extensive review to date on what happened to them after they were released.  A Long Road Back After Exoneration.

A compelling report by the New York Times on life after exoneration
(You may need to register to view report, but registration is free.)

In 2002, Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath admitted the state had imprisoned an innocent man, Jimmy Bromgard, who was cleared by DNA of the rape of an 8-year-old girl in her Billings, MT home.  Now that Jimmy has sued the state and Yellowstone County for his wrongful conviction, the state AG and the local prosecutor are desperately trying to find some way to show he might be guilty after all.  It's still a matter of winning at all costs.

Michael Williams was just a high-school sophomore when he was tried as an adult for the rape of his 22-year-old tutor. The woman's head was covered during the attack, but she testified that she recognized the teenager by his voice. Despite a lack of physical evidence, Mr. Williams was convicted and sentenced to life without parole.  When Mr. Williams was freed by DNA after 24 years in prison,  he had nowhere to go. The Innocence Project tracked down several of his siblings, but after 24 years, they barely knew him, and refused to take him.  A Stranger to His Family

James Ochoa of Los Angeles, CA was 20 years old when he was identified by two witnesses as the man who committed a carjacking and robbery.  The DA put him on trial, despite of the fact that DNA from the carjacker's clothing had eliminated Ochoa.  After the first witness testified, the DA offered Ochoa 2 years prison for a plea to second-degree robbery, and Judge Robert Fitzgerald told Ochoa he would give him the max -- 16 years to life -- if he was convicted.  Ochoa took the plea deal, and served almost half before the DNA was matched to another man convicted in a similar carjacking/robbery.  Ochoa has submitted a claim for compensation, but the California Attorney General is opposing it, claiming his clearly coerced guilty plea was voluntary, so he doesn't "qualify."  Making a Chew Toy of Justice.

Andre Wallace of Chicago, IL was a 15-year-old kid when he was picked up by police, subjected to 'good cop/bad cop' interrogation, beaten and forced to confess to a murder he did not commit.  He spent 10 years in prison and was released in 2002.  In 2003, Andre sued the officers who falsely arrested him.  The US Supreme Court has ruled he filed way too late, that the clock on the 2-year time limit to sue for civil rights violations starts running at the time a person is arrested, not when he is exonerated.  It's a slap in the face of the wrongly convicted, and another 'attaboy' for the cops who beat a confession out of a kid.  'Sorry.  Have a nice day.'

Josiah Sutton spent more than four years in prison for a crime that DNA tests say he didn't commit. The courts overturned his sentence for rape and freed him. Texas Gov. Rick Perry gave him a full pardon in 2004. But Sutton, 23, is still waiting for his $100,000 check from a special state fund established in 2001 to compensate Texans who have been wrongfully imprisoned. The reason: Sutton can't get a required letter from Houston prosecutors admitting his mistaken conviction.  Adding Insult to Injury

Wilton Dedge, an innocent man Florida imprisoned for 22 years, was lucky in one respect. Had he been falsely convicted for robbery rather than rape, there would have been no DNA to set him free.  Florida politicians are fooling only themselves if they think that the current post-conviction DNA testing law does away with wrongful imprisonment in the Sunshine State.  The only circumstance more outrageous than the resistance to compensating Dedge is the Legislature's pervasive indifference to the moral certainty that there are hundreds of equally innocent people still rotting behind Florida bars.  What the State Owes the Innocent

After nearly 7 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Jeffrey Scott Hornoff walked out of prison a free man. With the clothes on his back, a small plastic bag of personal belongings and $500, he was ready to rebuild his life. Or was he?  A Normal Life

The wrongly convicted long for exoneration and freedom, and when these are achieved, the backhand they get from society can be a bitter blow.  Freedom No Cure-All

Only 16 states provide for the payment of reparations to innocent people convicted of crimes they did not commit and subsequently exonerated.  Only New York and  West Virginia have no limit.  California caps reparations at $10,000, and the federal government is stingiest of all, granting a maximum of $5,000.  The other 36 states provide no compensation at all.  Two contrasting cases illustrate the disparity in how victims of the system are treated.

Steven Toney - Missouri
Jimmy Williams - Ohio

The first 110 inmates freed by DNA were all innocent.  Collectively they spent over 1,000 years in prison.  For many of them, vindication brought neither a happy ending nor a happy beginning.  They have found No True Freedom

What recourse do the wrongfully imprisoned have for the years wasted behind bars?  Tough Luck for the Innocent Man examines the rule ~ Ford Heights Four Settlement looks at the rare exception.

In New Jersey, DNA evidence cleared John Dixon of rape and freed him from prison in 2001, but he now seeks another sort of vindication.  He has sued the public defender's office, alleging that for 10 years it turned a deaf ear to his requests for DNA testing. And on Feb. 6, 2004 Essex County Judge Mary Jacobson denied a motion to dismiss his suit, Dixon v. Segars, L-7598.  Ineffective Assistance by Public Defenders

Jailed at 16, Josiah Sutton of Houston, TX served 4 1/2 years of a 25-year sentence for a 1998 rape.  Josiah said he was innocent from the beginning. He won freedom March 12, 2003, when a DNA test excluded him as a suspect. A second test, ordered by the Harris County district attorney's office in June, also excluded him.   David Dow, director of the Texas Innocence Network, is working to clear Sutton's name in two ways: a court order to vacate the conviction and a governor's pardon based on innocence.  But Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal refuses to call Sutton "innocent" in documents needed to clear him.  Still Waiting

What do the Brits give someone who’s been proved innocent after spending the best part of their life behind bars, wrongfully convicted of a crime they didn’t commit?  An apology, maybe? Counselling? Champagne? Compensation? Well, if you’re David Blunkett, the Labour Home Secretary, the choice is simple: you give them a big, fat bill for the cost of board and lodgings for the time they spent freeloading at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in British prisons.  Ain't No Better in Britain

Without clear direction and assistance, exonerees must navigate an uncertain path to restarting their lives. Redemption was sweet, but it did not fully make up for what was taken.  hey lost out on their youth. Their children aged. Their friends moved on. Holidays came and went, over and over again.  They're in Limbo

Neil Miller says he can't even get a job at McDonald's after 10 years behind bars. Peter Vaughn developed a debilitating drug habit when he was freed. Ulysses Rodriguez Charles' 24-year-old daughter killed herself while he was in jail.  Boston's 22 Exonerees

Thomas Lee Goldstein emerged from the black hole of the California prison system on a Friday afternoon in a white-and-yellow jail jumpsuit, his feet in cheap slippers and his pockets empty, a white-haired man of 55. His first stop was at a Veterans Administration office in Los Angeles, hoping to get some clothes, a little money, a place to live. But the V.A.'s computers were down and officials could find no record of Mr. Goldstein's three years in the Marine Corps. He drove away with his lawyer, homeless and still empty-handed.  Starting Over

Wilder "Ken" Berry

In December, 1991, Ken Berry was a newly-hired officer with the University of Chicago Police Department.  But his world came crashing down when a woman with whom he had consensual sex accused him of rape.  Thanks to a defense attorney later described by U.S. District Judge Robert Gettelman as "clueless" -- he never prepared for trial and failed to call witnesses who could exonerate Berry -- Ken was convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison.  In 1999, his habeas was granted and he was retried.  It took the jury less than 2 hours to acquit Ken.  He has distinguished himself as a litigation paralegal and in his pro bono (free of charge) work with the poor and elderly, but what he really wants is a pardon.

Justin Brooks of the California Western Innocence Project, observes, "Innocent people do some of the hardest time. They never reconcile themselves to why they're in prison. They feel their lives have been taken away.  We expect them to just start functioning in the workforce. But there's a stigma to having been incarcerated."   Wrongly Convicted Walk Away with Scars

City Still Fighting Reinstatement:  Two years after Scott Hornoff's exoneration, the City of Warwick continues to fight Judge Rogers' order reinstating Scott to the Warwick Police Department.

Finding Solace.  ABC News examines life after prison for the exonerated.  Their records are clear, but they continue to suffer.

No Different Down Under.  In Western Australia, Andrew Mallard spent 12 years in prison for the murder of a woman he had never met.  His exoneration was historic, but Director of Public Prosecutions Robert Cock QC tagged him "the prime suspect'' despite dropping the wilful murder charge.  Thanks to Cock's "last tag," Mallard is locked out of shops, and mothers steer their children away from him.

Don't Count on LawsuitThe lawyer for Bill Conradt, a Chicago, IL man whose illegal arrest led to more than eight years behind bars pleaded with the Supreme Court to allow his client to sue the police who arrested him.   To do otherwise, lawyer Kenneth Flaxman said, the justice system would be saying, "It's just tough. You're seized for 8 1/2 years, and you can't go to state court, and you can't go to federal court."  But it all depends on whether the clock starts running on the statute of limitations when the illegal arrest happens, or after you have been exonerated.

A Feature Documentary Film
After Innocence

Truth in Justice