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$1.2 Million Compensation Package Approved For Wrongfully Convicted Georgia Man

Who can put a price on wrongful imprisonment? The Georgia legislature can. On March 19, 2007, the Georgia House of Representatives approved a $1.2 million compensation package for a man who spent 23 years in prison for a rape he didn?t commit.

Robert Clark, now 46, was convicted of abducting a 29-year-old woman outside an Atlanta fast food restaurant in 1981 and raping her repeatedly. The victim identified Clark as her assailant and he was sentenced to two life sentences plus 20 years.

Clark maintained his innocence from the beginning. In 1999, after reading an article about the New York-based Innocence Project, he wrote for help and attorneys with the Project accepted his case. In December 2003 Clark filed a petition for DNA testing, which was granted. The test concluded that Clark?s DNA didn?t match semen obtained from the victim?s rape kit.

Clark, who spent time at the state?s worst prisons, was released on December 8, 2005. He says he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia as a result of his wrongful imprisonment and contracted hepatitis C from a prison tattoo.

Even so, Clark has maintained an exceptional attitude. ?I feel great,? Clark told reporters as he left the House chamber after watching the vote from the balcony. ?I?m adjusting. It?s slow, but I?m adjusting.?

Lisa George, communications director of the Georgia Innocence Project, which is helping Clark adjust to life on the outside, noted that his transition won?t be seamless. ?It?s a struggle every day,? she said. ?The guy was 21 years old and an eighth-grade drop out when he went into prison. Obviously, he didn?t get the skills he needed in prison to walk back out on the street in 2005 and function the way both personally and professionally a middle-aged man would.?

Immediately after the vote Clark said: ?This is so great. I just wish my mother were here to see it,? according to George, who was sitting with Clark in the balcony. Clark?s mother died in 2004 at age 88 while he was still in prison.

The House resolution calls for a $100,000 lump sum payment and annual payments amounting to $80,000 per year for 15 years. On may 24, 2007, Governor Sonny Perdue signed the bill into law, ensuring Clarke will receive the money.

Additional sources: Associated Press, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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