“…For 21 years, you woke up and went to sleep knowing that an innocent man, Kenneth Ireland, was sitting in prison,” said Connecticut Superior Court Judge David P. Gold in sentencing Kevin Benefield to the maximum 60 years in prison for the 1986 rape/murder of Barbara Pelkey.
Judge Gold referenced, as reported in a New Haven Register article here, the “ripple effect” of the crime that robbed Pelkey’s four children of their mother, financial and emotional security, and their father, who committed suicide in the wake of the brutal crime. All four of the Pelkey children, now adults with their own families, attended the sentencing on March 23, 2012.
The wrongful conviction in this case expanded the crime’s ripple effect. Convicted on questionable forensic evidence and testimony of a witness who collected a $15,000 reward, Ireland, 42, was incarcerated at 18 years old and is now seeking $8 million from the state in compensation for his 21 years of wrongful imprisonment.
In the more than twenty years that Benefield escaped justice, he was convicted of a rash of other crimes including assault, burglary, car thefts, etc.
Thank you, Connecticut Innocence Project, for seeking the DNA testing that exonerated Ireland and implicated Benefield.
This story demonstrates—as all wrongful convictions do—why we must seek to institute every best practice in criminal justice to improve the opportunity to get verdicts right the first time.