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Wrongfully Convicted Texas Prisoner Finally Receives $118,000 in Compensation

In 1988, a 17-year-old Josiah Sutton was convicted in a Texas court of a rape he did not commit and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. Sutton spent close to five years in prison before new DNA tests performed in 2003 proved the tests previously performed by the discredited Houston Police Department crime lab were false. Those false results had virtually assured his conviction.

The 25-year-old ex-high-school-football player was released from prison in March 2003. Initially, it took many months of negotiations with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles before they recommended Sutton for a pardon based upon innocence instead of the lesser pardon they wanted him to receive. Texas Governor Rick Perry signed the pardon in May 2004.

The pardon based on innocence should have cleared the way for Sutton to receive compensation for the long years of wrongful imprisonment. However, in 2003, Texas amended the compensation laws to require that the district attorney of the district of conviction sign off any compensation, which is fixed by statute at $25,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment and capped at $500,000. [PLN, June 2005, p.23]. Chuck Rosenthal, Harris County District Attorney, refused to issue a letter approving any compensation for Sutton.

It took over a year of negotiations between Suttons lawyers and Rosenthal before Rosenthal agreed to issue a letter stating that he would not oppose Suttons receiving the compensation. However, Rosenthal still refused to acknowledge that Sutton was innocent.

Despite having been proven innocent, Sutton has had a hard time since he was released. The criminal record of his false conviction has haunted him, with potential employers and landlords refusing him jobs and housing on that basis. He has also been influenced by the culture of immaturity and misogyny common in Texas prisons.

Four and a half years of the most important years of this young man life were taken and [he was] put behind bars, said state Senator Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. He has had a hard time since he came out because he was expected to act like an adult, but was not equipped to be one. He needs counseling and assistance, not just money.

I am out of prison, but I am hardly free, said Sutton in a letter to Rosenthal pleading for him to approve compensation. Most of my days are spent worrying about where my next meal will come from and trying to find transportation from one place to the next. My efforts to get my life on track have been filled with disappointment and frustration.

Indeed, the price of wrongful convictions goes way beyond the paltry payout of compensation. Sutton, qualifies for $118.749.97. The first check, for $60,000, was mailed to him on September 30, 2005. Hopefully, it will mark the beginning of a new life for this victim of wrongful prosecution and conviction.

Source: Houston Chronicle.

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