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Fight for compensation for exonerees underway in Annapolis

Posted at 9:33 PM, Feb 09, 2021

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — For years exonerees in Maryland have been fighting for compensation for the time that was taken from them.

They were sent to jail for crimes they didn’t commit and when they got out, they were given little to nothing to right the wrongs done to them.

WMAR-2 News’ Eddie Kadhim has been working with the Innocence Project and Exonerees telling their stories for a few years now.

On Tuesday, the senate passed through the second reader of the Exoneree Compensation Bill.

It will make it easier for these men and women to be compensated and speed the process up.

Kirk Bloodsworth was the first death row convict to be exonerated by DNA.

He spent 9 years in prison and two years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit.

“When they slammed that 300-pound door shut my life was over," Bloodsworth said.

Bloodsworth was exonerated and was given $300,000 in compensation.

That money was mainly used for legal fees.

“I don’t consider getting any kind of compensation one way or the other any kind of reward," Bloodsworth said.

The Innocence Project has been working alongside exonerees like Bloodsworth for years to help them with their cases and to advocate for them.

The Maryland Exoneree Compensation Bill is currently being considered in Annapolis.

It would make compensation equal to the median household income for the time they wrongfully served.

It would change the decision on compensation from the hands of the Board of Public Works.

Nathanieal Erb, a Policy Advocate with the Innocence Project, explained it to me.

“Can go to an administrative law judge, can have their case heard, can prove by clear and convincing evidence that they themselves were exonerated," said Erb. "It wasn’t an issue within the court system that let them out. It was an actual case of innocence and they themselves can receive compensation from the state for the time they were forced to be imprisoned.”

One of the men who has been testifying for the bill is Walter Lomax, who the bill is named after.

I talked with him last year about his decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and had to wait years before seeing any compensation.

Now he is on the front line fighting for others.

“Each individual that experiences trauma so it is difficult to fathom what they are dealing with that is unless you have had a similar experience," Lomax said. "You will never be able to make them whole again because they will never be the same. The best you can hope is that they learn to live what has happened to them. What this body can do is pass this legislation so that individuals that have been erroneously convicted can be compensated in a timely fashion.”

Erb said this bill has bipartisan support and they do expect the house to pass it through because they passed it through last year, but it stalled because the session closed early.