Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“The government's War on Poverty has transformed poverty from a short-term misfortune into a career choice. ”     Harry Browne

March 28, 2007

What Is 17 Years In Prison Worth ?

by Doug Mataconis

Virginia is proposing to pay $ 1.9 million to Earl Washington, Jr., who spent 17 years in prison, including time on death row, for a rape and murder that he did not commit:

Virginia officials have agreed to pay $1.9 million to a man who spent 17 years in prison — including more than nine on death row — for a rape and murder he did not commit, officials said yesterday.

If the settlement is approved by the court, it will bring an end to years of legal battles that arose from one of the nation’s most troubling instances of a wrongful conviction. Earl Washington Jr., a farmworker who is mildly mentally retarded, once came within days of execution. He was exonerated in 2000 by DNA tests.[

The story of how Washington ended up nearly being executed for a murder he didn’t commit is particularly outrageous:

Washington’s conviction in the 1982 rape and murder of 19-year-old Rebecca Williams, a young mother from Culpeper, was largely the result of a false confession in which he got several key details wrong. Last year, a federal jury in Charlottesville ruled that a now-deceased Virginia State Police investigator fabricated parts of that confession. The jury awarded Washington $2.5 million.

The proposed $1.9 million settlement calls for the court to dismiss the verdict against the estate of investigator Curtis Reese Wilmore, who died in 1994, according to court papers. It also would mean that all appeals in the case, including one by Wilmore’s estate, would be dropped. The state funded the defense against Washington’s lawsuit because Wilmore was a state employee when he interrogated Washington.

It makes sense for Washington to settle the claim at this point. The appeals would be costly, and there’s always a risk that the jury verdict would be overturned.

The case does raise a question, though, what is appropriate compensation for being held in prison for 17 years and nearly being executed due to a falsified confession ? The jury said it was $ 2.5 million dollars, but that seems paltry compared to the damage that was done to Washington over the years. And, quite honestly, it’s unfortunate the man responsible for all this never spent a day in jail for what he did.


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