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North Carolina Man Awaits Compensation Four Years After Death Row Exoneration

Glen Edward Chapman's conviction for two Hickory, North Carolina murders was reversed and a new trial ordered because lead investigator Dennis 'Money had lied during his trial testimony and detectives had "lost, misplaced or destroyed" evidence that showed a different man had committed the murders. In 2008, the district attorney dismissed all charges against Chapman due to insufficient evidence of guilt. Despite spending 15 years on death row for crimes he did not commit, Chapman has yet to see a penny of compensation.

According to a 2009 report by the Innocence Project, Chapman shares this status with 402 of the wrongly convicted who were exonerated by DNA testing and have received no compensation for the years they spent in prison. This startling statistic is primarily due to the fact that 23 states offer no assistance to the wrongly convicted.

Even among the states that do offer compensation, technicalities might prevent or delay compensation. Such was the case with Anthony. Graves, who spent 18 years on death row in Texas. Graves was denied compensation because the judge who ordered his release failed to use the magic words "actual innocence." That he was exonerated by DNA test that proved another man had committed the murder did not matter one bit to the Texas Comptroller until nationwide media attention generated a massive public outcry that cause a rethink and resulted in $1.4 million of compensation for Graves.

It takes an average of three years for an exoneree to receive compensation in states that provide it. Even among the states that offer compensation, the amounts vary neatly from a minimum of $20,000 per year of incarceration in New Hampshire to $80,000 per year in Texas.

At $50,000 per year, capped at $750,000, North Caroline falls right in the middle of the compensation range. But Chapman is facing a problem similar to Graves. He can't receive compensation before receiving a pardon of innocence from North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue. His application for such a pardon has been sitting on her desk since 2009.

The problem with delayed compensation is that the needs of the exoneree are not delayed. An exoneree must find a place to stay and pay for meals starting the day of release. Chapman was given ten minutes to pack his property and leave the prison when he was unexpectedly released. He didn't even have a ride and was not given the "sate money" that is normally given to prisoners who are paroled or have completed their sentences so he didn't even have bus fare or change for a phone call.

Fortunately, Chapman had something more important – a friend. Pamela Laughon, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, had worked as a court-appointed investigator on Chapman's case for eight years. They had become friends and she offered to let him stay at her place. According to Chapman, she was like a big sister to him, teaching him life skills such as how to open a checking account and get a driver's license.

"I had lawyers calling me from all over the state asking me if I was nuts," said Laughon. "I spent eight years trying to get this man released. There was no way I was going to drop him off at a homeless shelter or the projects where he grew up."

Laughon even went on job interviews with Chapman to lend credibility to his claims of exoneration. Although still stigmatized with the taint of a murder conviction, Chapman eventually found a minimum-wage job at a motel and has stuck with it, unable to find a better job.

The pardon would make it easier for him to find better paying work, but it would do much more according to Hickory pastor Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman who is the third vice president of the North Carolina NAACP.

"His family is still at odds with him, not knowing whether he is a murderer or not," said Spearman. "The stigma of being a felon is still on him" and this would be removed by an official declaration of innocence.

Spearman also believes that the state's compensation is inadequate, calling incarcerating the innocent crime and saying that the government "needs to go head over heels to make sure these men receive apologies and make sure that they can get on with their lives--meaning compensation, education, whatever they need."

Jean Parks, whose sister was murdered, is an active member of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation and People of Faith Against the Death Penalty in Asheville. She also believes that the monetary compensation alone is insufficient.

"Money should be a part of it, to help cover for lost wages and lost opportunities, but the state's response should go beyond that," Parks said. "It should include an official apology and some social services to help the person get reacclimated to society, find a job, and reestablish oneself as a productive member of the community."

Laughon agrees. She thinks that any exoneree should be give a "life coach" to mentor life skills like she did for Chapman. Touting her experience with Chapman as a successful example of "life coach" mentoring, she said that a "life coach" should be "somebody that's going to navigate all the many day-to-day things like managing a bank account, how paychecks will be taxed, and other kinds of life skills you and I do second nature."

Chapman has vowed to do everything he can to end the death penalty. He has written two books, "Life After Death Row" and "Within the Walls" since being released and has travelled across the state to speak about the flaws in the criminal justice system and his exoneration. He is also scheduled to be featured in an upcoming episode of the B.E.T. show "Vindicated," which focuses on exonerated prisoners. With luck, Governor Perdue will soon sign his pardon and he will finally be full vindicated himself.


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