McGee, 42, was convicted of a 1991 gas station robbery. He had a time card from his janitorial job at Fort Lauderdale High School that indicated he was working at the time of the robbery. Further, he did not match initial descriptions of the robber and his fingerprints were not found at the crime scene.
However, at trial his attorney “failed to raise a single objection during the case and attempted to enter the wrong time card into evidence.” His conviction was reversed after he finished serving his prison sentence, with Judge Paul Backman saying McGee’s trial lawyer had provided “absolutely the worst performance in the courtroom I’ve ever seen.”
Under the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act, which was enacted in 2008, exonerated prisoners are eligible to receive $50,000 for each year they spent in prison. McGee refused to accept compensation under the statute because it failed to cover the costs associated with hiring an attorney.
“Most exonerees come out of prison with limited resources or no resources at all. It is one of the reasons why they were convicted in the first place and were unable to effectively prove their innocence for so many years,” observed Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida. “But to get compensation, you have to spend money you don’t have to get a lawyer.”
Additionally, under a “clean hands” provision, the Act bars exonerated prisoners from receiving payments if they have been convicted of any other felony unrelated to the wrongful conviction. Fortunately McGee had an otherwise clean record.
He agreed to accept $179,000 in compensation pursuant to the Act after his attorney, David Comras, agreed to represent him at no charge. By signing papers to accept the payment from state officials on February 16, 2010, McGee became the first Florida prisoner compensated under the statute.
“I delayed taking this compensation to let the public know that there are a number of ways to improve the wrongful incarceration compensation statute. With the economy like it is, it was time to accept the compensation and continue this fight,” he stated.
For additional information on compensation for the wrongly convicted, see the related article in this issue of PLN, “Innocence Project Report on Compensation and Reentry Services for Exonerated Prisoners.”
Sources: Legal News for Florida Criminal Lawyers, www.floridainnocence.org
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