Exonerees Michael Morton & James Tillman Will Also Be Official Guests of Reps. Johnson, Larson at State of the Union
(Washington, D.C. – Jan. 12, 2016) – Michael Morton and James Tillman combined spent over 40 years in prison for brutal crimes that they did not commit before DNA evidence proved their innocence. Today, these exonerees shared moving details of their life stories and joined Reps. Sam Johnson (R-TX) and John Larson (D-CT) at a press conference to highlight a recently enacted law that will exempt compensation received for wrongful conviction from federal taxation by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The new law, the Wrongful Convictions Tax Relief Act, was sponsored by Reps. Johnson and Larson and is a critical first step in the federal government’s role in supporting the reentry needs of exonerees.
In December, thanks to the leadership and support of Reps. Johnson and Larson, and Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in the Senate, Congress passed the bipartisan Wrongful Conviction Tax Relief Act as part of the tax extenders package. In the U.S., individuals convicted and exonerated by DNA evidence spent an average of 14 years in prison. After fighting for years to prove their innocence, many of these men and women then had to mount additional battles, through courts or legislatures, to obtain compensation. If not for the enactment of the Wrongful Convictions Tax Relief Act, exonerees would still be subject to the additional injustice of having to pay federal taxes on the money they received for the years that were stolen from them.
The law is an important and critical step in the path toward easing reentry to wrongfully convicted men and women who are re-entering society, and in too many states, have limited or no resources upon being released from prison. In addition to lending their support to the recently enacted Wrongful Convictions Tax Relief Act, Morton and Tillman also called on the federal government to do more to support reentry services for the wrongfully convicted. Additionally, Morton and Tillman will attend the State of the Union as official guests of Reps. Johnson and Larson respectively; it is the first time that exonerees have attended the address as official guests.
“Serving prison time for a crime that you did not commit is a horrific miscarriage of justice that no one should ever have to experience. It’s a daily struggle that is just indescribable in its difficulty and horror. And after being exonerated, many have to mount yet another battle to receive compensation for those lost years. To even think that it was once allowable to tax us for this money is just unbelievable to me,” said Morton. “I want to thank Congressman Johnson and Congressman Larson for fighting against this additional injustice and for inviting us to the State of the Union. I hope we can use this opportunity to do more for the wrongfully convicted men and women who will need better reentry services when they get out of prison.”
“There is no amount of money that can make up for all the years they took away from us. No amount of money. At the same time, it’s not as though people can just pick up from where they left off after being wrongfully convicted. It is important that the wrongfully convicted receive adequate compensation and resources for the time we were forced to do. It would be another injustice to continue taxing people on the money they receive for that lost time; I am grateful that Reps. Larson and Johnson worked to right this wrong.”
“Our experiences may be different in regards to how we ended up imprisoned, but as a 29-year Air Force veteran who spent nearly seven years as a POW in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, I understand what it means to have years of your life robbed from you. When I learned that folks who had been wrongfully imprisoned were suffering the additional injustice of having to pay the IRS taxes on their restitution, I wanted to do something about it,” said Congressman Johnson. “What’s so great about the Wrongful Convictions Tax Relief Act is that it is also retroactive – which is a pretty rare thing in the tax world. But that’s where today’s event comes into play. You see, folks only have until December of this year to get their money back from the IRS. I offer my deepest gratitude to Michael Morton and James Tillman for sharing their stories today and for their dedication to seeing that fellow individuals who have been wrongfully convicted are aware of this important tax relief.”
“I want to thank Reps. Johnson and Larson, and Sens. Schumer and Cornyn for championing this important legislation. In Texas, we have a robust compensation law, but the reality is that twenty entire states do not even have compensation laws and, in too many states that do, these laws are inadequate, as are the general reentry services. That said, to continue to allow for the possibility of levying federal taxes on wrongful conviction would be an exercise in perpetuating injustice. This is a step in the right direction in the need to provide adequate compensation and reentry services for the wrongfully convicted, and I am hopeful that this year these issues will be a priority for Congress and President Obama,” said Texas State Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Chair of the Innocence Project Board of Directors.
Morton was wrongfully convicted and served 24 years in prison for the rape and murder of his wife, Christine, before the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo Law School, took his case and accessed DNA evidence which proved his innocence. Tillman was represented by the Connecticut Innocence Project, and was wrongfully incarcerated for 18 years for a rape he did not commit, before DNA evidence led to his exoneration.
Contact: Jenny Collier, (202) 295-7188, [email protected]
Nick Moroni, Innocence Project, (212) 364-5371, [email protected]
Darcy McGraw, Connecticut Innocence Project, (203) 887-5657, [email protected]