Louisiana is among the 29 states plus Washington, D.C. that has a compensation law for the wrongly convicted, but several Louisiana exonerees said it doesn’t make up for the injustice of being locked up and everything that comes with it, reported
Louisiana’s compensation statute provides $25,000 per year of wrongful incarceration with a cap of $250,000 plus up to $80,000 for loss of life opportunities for exonerees who have proved factual innocence. For
, who was wrongfully convicted of a 1985 murder and sent to death row, the money can’t give him back the 18 years he lost while behind bars.
“It was like hell. It was worse than hell,” said Thompson, now 50, of the 14 years he spent on Death Row. “If that is not cruel and unusual punishment, not only to you but to your whole family, then I don’t know what is.”
While facing his seventh execution date, a private investigator hired by his appellate attorneys discovered scientific evidence of Thompson’s innocence that had been concealed for 15 years by the New Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office. When he released and exonerated in 2003, the state of Louisiana gave him $10 and a bus ticket. He sued the District Attorney’s Office. A jury awarded him $14 million, one for each year on death row. When Louisiana appealed, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2011, Justice Clarence Thomas issued the majority 5-4 decision in
Connick v. Thompson
that the prosecutor’s office could not be held liable.
Thompson and other exonerees like
, who served more than a decade in prison, are shortchanged by the law that only entitles them compensation for 10 years.
“I don’t think exonerees like myself that spent a quarter century in prison for a crime they didn’t commit should be scuffling as hard as we’re scuffling,” said Johnson, who learned leather work at Angola and opened a shop in Leesville after winning his freedom. “I’ve been out since 2008, and I still can’t afford to buy my home as every grown-up should have at my age.”
Rep. Herbert B. Dixon (D-Alexandria) plans to reintroduce a bill next legislative session that would double the current compensation rate. He would also like establish a court cost dedicated to fund the state’s Innocence Compensation Fund.
29 States Have Compensation Statutes: Is Yours One?