A Texas exoneree may be held responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in back child support that a judge claims he owes for the 25 years he spent behind bars, according to the
San Antonio Express-News
Steven Phillips was exonerated in 2008 after DNA evidence proved he was not the perpetrator of the series of rapes and sexual assaults for which he was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Because Phillips was unable to make child support payments due to his wrongful imprisonment, the back child support is to be paid by the state of Texas as part of Phillips’ wrongful conviction compensation. However, the state comptroller claims that Phillips owes only $18,593 and refuses to pay the total amount of $334,000 that District Judge Gloria Saldana says is owed.
The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday as to whether the state comptroller can limit the amount of funds provided through the Timothy Cole Act, the law which entitles wrongfully-convicted Texans to compensation of around $80,000 per year of incarceration, plus an annuity valued at $80,000 per year based on the number of years wrongfully incarcerated. If the court rules that the comptroller can limit the funds and the state pays less than the full amount of child support owed, Phillips may be held responsible for the difference. According to the
, Phillips has already started paying the back child support using his compensation money in monthly installments of $5,500.
Since a case like this has never come before the state supreme court, the decision will serve as a precedent for similar cases in the future.