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Missouri Legislature Allows Wrongfully Convicted to Receive Compensation

The Missouri Legislature has enacted legislation to compensate all persons declared "actually innocent" after DNA testing. In the last 15 years, five such prisoners in Missouri were released after being exonerated by DNA testing.

The latest action by that legislature sought to cure an injustice arising out of its original 2004 DNA compensation bill. Then, the legislature ordered that all persons found ?actually innocent? by a court after August 28, 2003, from DNA testing could receive compensation.

That compensation amounted to fifty dollars per day of incarceration and a waiver of all costs of incarceration. The award would be paid by the Department of Corrections, but yearly payments cannot exceed $36,000 per year. The exonerated are entitled to payments until the full amount is paid. No award is given if the prisoner was serving a concurrent sentence for an unrelated crime.

The injustice came because only one of the five exonerated men could receive compensation under that legislation. The legislature then convened a subcommittee to work out the matter. The 2004 bill benefited only Anthony Woods, who was imprisoned for 18 years. Woods received an award exceeding $320,000.

The other four were left out. One of those men was identified in news reports. Steven Toney served 14 years for a rape he did not commit. In 1996, DNA evidence exonerated him. He was released from prison with $16, good wishes, and had to get a ride from his lawyer to his hometown of St. Louis.

He has struggled to make it with odd jobs and low employment skills. He is like the other exonerated men, who averaged serving 13.7 years before release.

In its 2006 session, the Missouri legislature allowed all persons exonerated by DNA evidence to receive the compensation that rarely comes, and when it does, it varies among the person as to what they receive.

To receive the compensation, a petition must be filed with the sentencing court. Toney will receive over $200,000. Even state Senator Michael Gibbons acknowledged it does not replace what was lost. "Does it take away the fact he lost all those years of his life? We can't give him those years back, but it at least acknowledges we made a mistake and we want to make it right." It's a good start.

Sources: Senate Bill No. 1023, 93rd General Assembly, Missouri 2006; Washington Monthly;

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