In 1974, Michael Austin, then 25, was convicted for the murder of a grocery store security guard. Austin was not only at work when the murder transpired, but is also 7 inches taller than the killer that eyewitnesses described during his trial. Incompetent counsel allowed prosecutorial misconduct during the trial, including the misuse of evidence and mistaken identification, which caused the jury to convict Austin.
Twenty years later, Austin sent a letter to a Princeton, New Jersey group called Centurion Ministries. Centurion helps prisoners it believes are wrongly convicted. With the help of a private investigator, who was hired by Centurion to look into the case, its findings led the Baltimore Sun to examine the case in March 2001. That investigation consequently led to Austin's conviction to be overturned nine months later by Baltimore Circuit Judge John Carroll Byrnes.
Despite being wrongfully convicted of the murder, Austin applied himself to self-betterment. During his incarceration, he had a cellmate that holds a bachelor's degree in Music. Austin not only learned to play the trumpet and piano, but to read and write music as well. This led Austin, upon release to form a jazz band. He also began a career in public speaking.
To receive compensation for wrongful incarceration under Maryland law, Austin had to be granted a pardon. Austin petitioned Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich for the pardon. By telephone, Ehrlich apologized and granted a full pardon to Austin.
Austin, with the help of his attorney, Larry Nathans, petitioned the BPW, which consists of the Governor, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, for compensation based on economic analyses of his potential income, Social Security payments, pensions and other data. Austin's petition also describes the mental anguish he went through during more than two decades of incarceration.
The BPW granted Austin's petition. It awarded him $1.4 million, which is Maryland's largest award for a wrongful conviction. The award will be paid in payments to be spread out over 10 years. BPN also approved money for Austin to seek financial counseling, and also received a public apology from the Governor.
The significance of today is the opportunity for me to feel a sense of gaining my power back...This has been an opportunity for me to look back on what I've been through and look forward." said Austin.
While the BPW award is well deserved, Austin said no amount of money could compensate me for my years in prison."
Sources: The Baltimore Sun; findlaw.com
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