It’s not unreasonable for the state to pay $5.5 million to a man who spent nine years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of trying to kill his sleeping wife with a hammer, an appeals court has ruled, upholding an award in a case judges said was tainted by a coerced confession.
Daniel Gristwood “established that his conviction and incarceration had a catastrophic impact on his personal and family life,” the state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division wrote in a decision released Friday.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, which opposed the award, had no immediate comment Saturday. Gristwood’s lawyer, Thomas Shannon, told The Post-Standard he planned to ask state officials to start the payment process next week.
Gristwood was convicted in 1996 of attempted murder after he was accused of attacking his wife, Christina, in the couple’s apartment in Clay, near Syracuse, where they lived with their five children. She suffered a fractured skull and severe brain damage that left her unable to walk or to eat; she was fed through a tube.
Gristwood had confessed to police, providing the only evidence linking him to the crime, according to the appeals court ruling. But he maintained his innocence as he was prosecuted.
He was serving 12 1/2 to 25 years in prison when another man admitted to the attack, giving extensive detail. Gristwood was released in 2005, and the case against him was dismissed. By then, the legal time limit for prosecuting someone else had expired.
A state Court of Claims judge ruled in 2011 that state police coerced Gristwood into falsely confessing after 15 hours of interrogation; the appeals court agreed. A now-retired state police investigator who was involved in the interrogation has denied the admission was coerced, and the district attorney has noted that the criminal trial judge found that Gristwood wasn’t fatigued and made the statements voluntarily.
The same Court of Claims judge awarded Gristwood $5.5 million last year.
The attorney general’s office argued that the judge erred in finding the state liable and that the award was excessive.
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