February 28, 2015 – Yesterday Washington D.C. Superior Court Judge Neal E. Kravitz ordered $9.2 million be paid by the District to Kirk L. Odom, 52, in compensation for more than 21 years of imprisonment after he was wrongfully convicted of a 1981 Capital Hill rape and burglary. The Washington Post reported (here) that “Odom is one of five D.C. men convicted of rape or murder whose charges have been vacated since 2009 because they were based on erroneous forensics and testimony by an elite unit of FBI hair experts.”
In his District-record award, the judge provided one formula for calculating compensation damages: $1,000 per day for wrongful incarceration, $250 per day for parole time and $200 for each day between his exoneration and trial. The article noted that Judge Kravitz’s opinion comes “as courts are coming to terms with how to respond to a growing number of DNA and other types of exonerations”…and “could help establish a precedent for other District cases.”
The ruling was another milestone in more than a decade of revelations regarding faulty FBI forensic testimony — particularly with hair analysis. The FBI implemented a review but was criticized for notifying only the prosecutors in cases in which problems with forensic testimony were discovered. Some inmates spent years in prison unaware that lab issues could impact their cases. A whistleblower and subsequent investigative reporting by The Washington Post contributed to a slowly evolving probe with resulting awareness more broadly of FBI lab problems and other troubling issues relating to forensic science.
Noting Mr. Odom’s “profound” suffering and abuse in prison, Judge Kravitz wrote, “Mr. Odom is only a shell of the young man he was at the time of his wrongful conviction, and only a shell of the grown man he would have become had he not been wrongly convicted and unjustly imprisoned.”
The judge referenced Odom’s horrific experience — prison rapes, contraction of HIV, depression, suicide attempts, and estrangement from his family — resulting from his wrongful conviction.
Kravitz’s ruling establishes that the District’s Unjust Imprisonment Act provides prisoners six months from exoneration — not just from their incarceration — to file suit for time spent in parole and for physical and emotional injuries, in addition to their prison time.
D.C. Attorney Genera Karl A. Racine said that his office will review the order.
Odom was represented in his exoneration claim by the Public Defender Service led by Sandra K. Levick, chief of special litigation. He was represented in his compensation suit by Peter Neufeld of the law firm of Neufeld, Scheck and Brustin.