In September 2012 Ohio lawmakers required a faster track to compensation payment for the wrongfully convicted. The new provision is that “within sixty days after the date of the entry of the determination by the court of common pleas…that a person is a wrongfully imprisoned individual, the clerk of the court of claims shall forward a preliminary judgment to the president of the controlling board requesting the payment of fifty per cent of the amount” of the compensation as authorized by state law. The board is then required to take all actions necessary to make the payment. The new provision will be put to the test this month.
As reported by the Columbus Dispatch (here), Darrell Houston, who spent 16 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, is likely to be the first to receive the expedited partial payment, in his case, nearly $380,000. This will be good news for Houston, who has worked at a car wash to meet expenses.
Nevertheless, as is usually the case in wrongful convictions, Houston’s road to exoneration and compensation has been long.
He was convicted in 1992 of a murder of a convenience school clerk, but an investigation in 2003 by ABC News Channel 5 in Cleveland revealed evidence of his innocence including the fact that a witness to the crime said Houston was not the killer. No physical evidence tied Houston to the murder.
According to the case’s report at the National Registry of Exonerations (here) Common Pleas Judge Nancy Fuerst granted Houston a new trial in November 2007. The judge indicated that there was little evidence supporting his conviction. The Cuyahoga County District Attorney appealed the ruling, which was reaffirmed in January of 2009. The new trial began in August of 2010, but prosecutors then dismissed the charges.
A Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge subsequently ruled that Houston had been wrongfully convicted. Prosecutors also appealed this ruling. Houston’s attorney noted before the Eighth District Court of Appeals (here) that Houston had turned down prosecutors’ offers to free him on time served if he would plead to lesser charges.
According to the News Channel Report (here), in September 2012 the Appeals Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, “and found that Houston was not only ‘wrongfully convicted’ but that ‘a preponderance of the evidence showed Houston was innocent.’
The Ohio Court of Claims order to pay Houston will be before the Controlling Board on Jan. 28. In Ohio, the wrongfully convicted are eligible for a base rate of $40,330 per year of wrongful imprisonment, adjusted for inflation by the auditor of state, as well as reimbursement for any fines, court costs, reasonable legal fees, and loss of salary due to the arrest, prosecution, conviction, and wrongful imprisonment.
Ohio’s faster-track compensation for the wrongfully convicted is to be lauded. Nevertheless, assuming Houston receives partial compensation as expected at the end of this month, his journey from arrest and wrongful imprisonment to partial compensation will have taken more than twenty years.