Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Man freed by DNA evidence seeks nearly $8 million settlement

Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A man freed from a Kentucky prison by DNA evidence is offering to settle a lawsuit against the city of Louisville for about $8 million.

The settlement offer amounts to about $1 million for each of the nearly eight years William Thomas Gregory, 58, spent in prison.

Gregory's attorneys made the offer to resolve the case in a memorandum filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Louisville. The offer came just eight days before attorneys for Gregory and the city of Louisville are scheduled to hold settlement talks.

Debi Cornwall, one of Gregory's attorneys with The Innocence Project in New York, declined to elaborate on the settlement offer or the estimate.

"We'll just see how that plays out," Cornwall said.

Bill Patteson, a spokesman for the Jefferson County Attorney's Office, declined to discuss the settlement offer.

"It's all part of the negotiating process," Patteson said. "We don't want to telegraph anything."

Gregory was convicted in 1993 of two counts of attempted rape and sentenced to 70 years in prison. He was released in 2000 after DNA tests on hairs from a stocking worn by the attacker eliminated him as the perpetrator.

Gregory sued the city and Kentucky State Police forensic examiner Dawn Ross Katz in 2001, alleging that evidence was manipulated and falsified, leading to his arrest and conviction. Last month, Gregory settled with Katz for $700,000.

Gregory's attorneys estimated in the court filing that he could be awarded as much as $16 million based on recent jury verdicts and settlements in similar cases.

In the past year, a jury in Waukegan, Ill., awarded $9 million to Alejandro Dominguez, who spent four years in prison before being freed, while a jury in Middlesex County, Mass., awarded $13.6 million to Eric Sarsfield, who spent nearly a decade in prison for rape, the attorneys wrote.

Given Gregory's lack of a criminal history and his good standing in the community before his arrest, the settlement offer is very reasonable, Cornwall and co-counsel Nick Brustin wrote.

"The extent of Mr. Gregory's familial, financial and emotional damages - both in the course of his eight years of wrongful imprisonment and continuing into the future - is truly off the charts," Brustin and Cornwall wrote.

Gregory sued the city of Louisville and Katz because Kentucky is not among states that compensate people who are wrongfully imprisoned.

In court filings, the city and police say Gregory has failed to make a case that police intentionally did anything wrong and argue that they shouldn't be held responsible for honest mistakes.

DNA tests were not available at the time of Gregory's trial, but became available in the late 1990s.

Gregory, with help from the Innocence Project, successfully appealed to have a DNA test. He was freed after prosecutors opted not to retry him. No one else has been arrested in the case.

If settlement talks fail, the case is scheduled for trial in July.

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