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Editorial: Wrongly convicted deserve better compensation from state

Last Modified: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 5:08 PM

Imagine for the moment that you have been incarcerated in Louisiana’s state prison for a serious crime you didn’t commit.

Finally, after years of claiming your innocence, advances in technology prove you did not commit the crime.

Your freedom is returned. But what does the state owe you for the years you will never get back?

Chances are the monetary figure you’ve established in your head is double, triple, maybe even 10 times or more than the $250,000 state law will pay an exoneree for ‘‘loss of life opportunities.’’

Imagine those vacuums: no chance to marry, no fathering and raising of children, no candlelight dinners, no days at the beach, no lazy Sunday mornings in bed, no home to call their own, no family gatherings for Thanksgiving and Christmas, no first day of school excitement, no night out with friends, no youth baseball game or dance recital, no grandchildren to spoil, no high school or college graduation to celebrate.

The list is infinite.

What, then, is fair compensation for years imprisoned for being in the wrong place at the wrong time or an over-reaching prosecutor or lousy defense attorney?

John Thompson spent 14 years on Angola State Prison’s Death Row for a 1985 murder he did not commit.

‘‘If that is not cruel and unusual punishment, not only for you but to your whole family, then I don’t know what is,’’ he recently told The Advocate of Baton Rouge.

Thanks to a law passed in 2005 by state lawmakers, Thompson is now receiving $25,000 per year, plus $80,000 for the ‘‘loss of life opportunities.’’ The $25,000 payout is capped at $250,000.

That’s far better than 21 other states that have no such compensation for wrongly convicted people in what can only be surmised as a ‘‘tough luck’’ attitude.

At the other end of the spectrum is Texas. The Lone Star State pays $80,000 a year for a wrongful incarceration with no cap on the total.

In 2012, an effort to raise Louisiana’s cap to $500,000 failed in the state Legislature. And advocates for those who were wrongly convicted say funding for compensation is shaky, at best.

To date, more than half of the 40 people who have been awarded compensation for being wrongfully convicted and imprisoned in Louisiana are receiving some form of compensation. Several other cases are pending.

Earl Truvia spent 27 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit in New Orleans. He says he now lives paycheck to paycheck.

‘‘No money can replace the horror and tragedy I experienced while I was incarcerated,’’ he said. ‘‘But they should be paying my retirement for the rest of my life. That’s something they took from me.’’

If you were in Truvia’s shoes, what monetary amount do you believe would be fair compensation?

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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