More wrongfully imprisoned ex-inmates could finally get financial compensation from state

CLEVELAND - Some former Ohio inmates, who spent years in prison for crimes they did not commit, are not getting compensation from the state. The original law for the wrongfully-imprisoned was passed in 2003 to help them get back on their feet.

However, the way the Ohio Supreme Court interpreted the law; people who were wrongfully imprisoned are only eligible for compensation under certain conditions:

  • If there were errors with DNA evidence
  • If constitutional procedural errors were made after sentencing, but not during the investigation or trial.

Representative Bill Seitz sponsored the bill in 2003. He hoped it would ensure people who were imprisoned for crimes they did not commit were compensated for mistakes in the justice system.

“How would you feel if that was you?” asked Seitz. “I'll tell you one thing. There's no amount of money that would be sufficient enough to compensate me.”

Case in point: The East Cleveland Three

Mark Godsey with the Ohio Innocence Project worked with Representative Seitz to create the bill.

He said the Supreme Court's ruling affects a number of former inmates who spent decades in prison instead of building a career and family--men like the "East Cleveland Three."

"'The East Cleveland Three' were they were convicted on really problematic junk science, frankly,” he said. “There was police misconduct, new witnesses coming forward."

MORE: Judge dismisses case of three East Cleveland men who served 20 years in prison for 1995 murder

Eugene Johnson, Derrick Wheatt and Laurese Glover were found guilty of murdering Clifton Hudson, back in 1995. Their conviction was overturned in 2015. They were released in 2016.

“The procedural error in their case was what's called a ‘Brady violation,’" said Godsey, “That's when police failed to turn over exculpatory evidence, evidence that suggests innocence.”

Bringing clarity

The men did not get any compensation for 20 spent in prison, because they did not meet the State Supreme Court's interpretation of the current law.

Representative Seitz wants to make changes and bring clarity to the law. House Bill 49 passed the State House and is being considered by the State Senate.

News 5 was not able to find anyone speaking out against House Bill 49. If it passes, about a half-dozen former inmates could collect money from Ohio, according to Godsey.

He said the former inmates, who were found to be innocent, are supposed to get at least $52,000 for every year they were wrongfully imprisoned, plus the wages lost, during that time.

RELATED: Ohio Innocence Project talks about grueling work of freeing wrongfully convicted inmates

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