From the blog Plain Error :
Innocent Man Accepts Compensation For Wrongful Incarceration
Leroy McGee Holds Press Conference; Vows to Fight for Reform of State Compensation Law
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida—On Tuesday February 16, 2010, Leroy McGee will hold a press conference to accept $179,000 in compensation from the State of Florida for his wrongful conviction for a 1990 robbery after refusing to sign the acceptance paperwork over disagreements with unfair provisions in the compensation law. He spent three years and seven months wrongfully incarcerated until Judge Paul Backman ruled McGee had not committed the robbery and that his defense attorney at trial gave the “absolutely the worst performance in the courtroom I’ve ever seen.” Mr. McGee is Florida’s first innocent individual to be eligible and receive compensation under the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act.
Leroy McGee was convicted in 1991 for an armed robbery he did not commit. During his incarceration, he continuously proclaimed his innocence. He pleaded with authorities and wrote numerous letters to judges. Finally, a special attorney, Mark Wrubel, was appointed to review his case. After several court filings, Judge Paul Backman ordered his conviction vacated. Judge Backman determined that Mr. McGee had simply been railroaded by an incompetent defense attorney who overlooked, or just failed to introduce, clear evidence of Mr. McGee’s innocence—Mr. McGee did not match the initial descriptions of the robbery suspect, none of the fingerprints found at the scene matched his, his car was inoperable at the time of the crime, and his employee time card showed that he was, in fact, at work when the armed robbery took place.
As part of this claim process Mr. McGee had to establish also that he has never been guilty of committing any crime. And this has to be certified by the FBI.
“I delayed taking this compensation to let the public know that there are a number of ways to improve the wrongful incarceration compensation statute. With the economy like it is, it was time to accept the compensation and continue this fight,” said Mr. McGee.
Specifically, the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act does not allow someone who has been convicted of a felony prior to or during his wrongful incarceration to seek compensation. Thus, a very minor felony can trigger this “Clean Hands” provision to prevent someone from being compensated for a subsequent wrongful incarceration. Additionally, the law does not allow for attorneys fees for the legal work provided to obtain the compensation. Because the law will require in some instances a mini-trial where the innocent individual will again have to prove their innocence, it may shut out a financially poor exoneree from the compensation process.
“Mr. McGee has been absolutely courageous in foregoing this compensation for the last eight months so that he could shed light on some of the problems with the compensation statute,” said David Comras, McGee’s pro bono attorney.
After Mr. McGee, with the help of his attorney, had fulfilled all of the legal and evidentiary requirements imposed by Florida’s Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act, the Attorney Generals Office offered to pay Mr. McGee in the form of an annuity that is worth approximately $179,000, and which is to be paid to him over a ten year plus period. Apparently, there is no provision in the Act to allow for his substantial costs and legal fees incurred obtaining this compensation, despite the complex legal and heavy evidentiary burdens he had to overcome. “If you are out of prison, you are going to be struggling out there, trying to get a job,” McGee said. “Who has the money to pay lawyers up front? Any decision I make now (the State) will bring up to the rest of the guys (who apply).”
“Most exonerees come out of prison with limited resources or no resources at all. It is one of the reasons why they were convicted in the first place and were unable to effectively prove their innocence for so many years. Without providing a modest fee in the statute to allow them to hire a compensation attorney, it may prevent them from claiming compensation they deserve simply because they are poor and can’t afford an attorney,” said Seth Miller, Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Florida.
“Even though Mr. McGee didn’t have to pay for my help to get his compensation, he is standing up for those exonerees who can’t afford an attorney or can’t find a free one in these tough economic times,” Comras continued. “Few, if any, of those wrongfully incarcerated would be willing or able to bear such costs, risks and complications on their own account. And even when successful, they would remain substantially out of pocket for a great number of years concerning these costs,” Comras wrote the State in a Sept. 15, 2009 letter.
While there is a bill filed (SB 654) in the Florida Senate to remove the clean hands provision from the compensation law, the bill does not include a modest attorney fees provision. The bill also does not have a sponsor in the Florida House of Representatives. Without a companion bill in the House, it is unlikely that any positive changes will be made to the law this year. Members of the House have until Tuesday March, 2, 2010, the first day of the legislative session, to file bills.
Please join Mr. McGee and his attorney David Comras for a press conference to announce the acceptance of his compensation for wrongful incarceration and explain Mr. McGee’s strong stance against the shortcomings in the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act. The event will be held at 2:00 PM at the Broward County Public Defender’s Office located at the main courthouse — 3rd Floor, North Wing, 201 SE 6th Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301.