A Jefferson Parish, La., judge on Friday authorized compensation payments for four men who were wrongfully convicted of crimes and spent time at Angola.
Henry James, 50, of Westwego, who spent almost 30 years in prison for his conviction of aggravated rape before DNA led to his release in October, was approved to receive the maximum $250,000 from the state’s Innocence Compensation Fund. He’ll also get educational and medical expenses, valued at up to $80,000.
His compensation was authorized a day after another judge ruled three West Bank men wrongfully convicted of murder in 1993 are also entitled to money.
On Thursday, District Judge Robert Murphy ruled that Glenn Davis, Larry Delmore and Terrence Meyers each are entitled to $250,000 from the compensation fund, plus the $80,000 in services, for their wrongful convictions in 1993 of killing alleged crack dealer Samuel George on Aug. 3, 1992. Each man spent up to almost 16 years in prison.
This week’s rulings are key first steps in the compensation process. The Legislature still must appropriate the money, something attorneys hope happens during the session that begins Monday.
The Times-Picayune reports James appeared before District Judge Patrick McCabe, who approved the compensation agreement in less than five minutes of discussion with James’ attorney Paul Killebrew and Assistant Attorney General Robert Abendroth.
James was wrongfully convicted of the 1981 rape of a Westwego woman. He spent 29 years and 11 months of his life sentence in prison, before DNA testing that did not exist three decades ago showed he was not the rapist. He was released from Angola on Oct. 21.
Based on the state-set rate of $25,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration, James is entitled to $747,916.67 in compensation, aside from the $80,000 for education and medical expenses. However, Louisiana law caps the compensation disbursements at $250,000. That averages out to $11,000 for each year of his incarceration.
“This is not winning the lottery by any stretch,” said Killebrew, an Innocence Project New Orleans attorney who helped free James.
Outside McCabe’s courtroom, Abendroth shook James’ hand.
“It was good to meet you,” the prosecutor told James, before delving into a private discussion.
“He just wished me well,” James said afterward. “He said he was sorry that it happened.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers will address three bills this session dealing with compensation for the wrongfully convicted.
House Bill 167, by Rep. Herbert Dixon, D-Alexandria, would increase the compensation fund cap to $500,000, resurrecting an effort the Legislature has undertaken in recent years without success. Louisiana ranks nationally second from the bottom in terms of the amount it provides the wrongfully convicted, according to the Innocence Project New Orleans.
State Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, filed HB 575, which would require exonerees to submit proof of enrollment in school or other programs in order for the state to pay for those services.
Another bill, HB 745, by Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, would open health insurance benefits public employees receive to exonerees – at the same cost employees pay.
“A lot of these guys come out with immediate health needs,” Killebrew said.
While medical services were provided in Angola, James has no insurance. He left prison with eye and feet problems, he said.
“I don’t think it’s right for a man to come out with no benefits,” said James, who moved into his own apartment for the first time Thursday and is trying to live “what little life I have left in me.”
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