More often than not, when I write about the criminal justice system generally or write about specific cases the news is very bad. This time I have not one, not two, but three very positive developments in three separate cases that have to this point been very negative.
#1 Larimer County Commissioners will Not Cap Compensation Tim Masters or Other Wrongfully Convicted in its Jurisdiction
Larimer County, CO like most governments at all levels is looking for ways to save money to deal with budget shortfalls. But is capping the damages for those the county has wrongfully convicted a reasonable way to address some of this shortfall? A majority of the commissioners say ‘no.’ Kevin Duggan writing for The Coloradan reports:
A proposal to limit the compensation a wrongfully incarcerated person could receive from a local government got a firm thumbs-down Tuesday from the Larimer County commissioners hours before Tim Masters was formally exonerated for the 1987 murder of Peggy Hettrick.
With the Masters case in mind, the commissioners said they would not support a suggestion from county staff to seek state legislation that would cap damages someone who was wrongly convicted and jailed may recover.
Commissioner Steve Johnson said he understood the goal of saving taxpayer money, but a cap on damages wasn’t the way to do that.
The best way to avoid paying out for wrongful incarcerations is to not let them happen, he said. Those in the judicial system have to make every effort to ensure innocent people are not convicted, he said.
“It just seems to me that having a high award possibility is almost like a deterrent to law enforcement and everybody else,” he said.
Masters received a combined $10 million settlement from Larimer County and the city of Fort Collins last year to settle a lawsuit over his prosecution and conviction for the 1987 slaying of Hettrick. Masters served 10 years in prison, but his conviction was vacated in 2008 based on DNA evidence.
#2 Texas Gov. Rick Perry Does the Right thing by Signing a Bill to Compensate $1.4 Million to Wrongfully Convicted Anthony Graves
After spending 18 years in prison (10 years on death row) Anthony Graves was denied a modest compensation of $1.4 million from the State of Texas. As I wrote in February, Graves was denied the compensation because the Texas Comptroller’s office determined that Graves was not entitled to the compensation because the phrase “actual innocence” appeared nowhere in the judge’s ruling that reached that obvious conclusion. To Gov. Rick Perry’s credit, just over a week ago he reversed this injustice by signing a bill that would grant Graves the full amount of the compensation.
Perry on Friday signed a bill that will compensate Graves for his imprisonment, including more than a decade on death row.
With Perry’s signature, the legislation takes effect immediately.
State law allows $80,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment, tax-free.
A bill “relating to claims for compensation for wrongful imprisonment and group health benefits coverage for persons wrongfully imprisoned” — specifically addressing Graves’ case — was adopted by the Texas Legislature with no opposition during its regular session this year.
Kudos to Gov. Perry and the Texas Legislature for doing the right thing for Graves and other wrongfully convicted Texans.
And now last but certainly not least…
#3 Cory Maye Accepts Plea Deal; Will be Released Soon
The final chapter of the Cory Maye case is nearly closed. After spending nearly 10 years in prison, Cory Maye will finally be released in a matter of days. Maye accepted a plea deal to a lesser charge of “culpable negligence” manslaughter which carries a 10 year sentence but will be given full credit for the time he has served.
While this is not the ideal, just outcome this is probably about the best that could be hoped for. Yes the double standard between non-cops shooting cops by mistake vs. cops shooting non-cops by mistake is extremely frustrating but this is the world we live in. From a letter Maye provided Radley Balko to share with his supporters Maye explains:
I realize a lot of people are going to wonder why I accepted a plea. We just felt that regardless of the facts and evidence that pointed in my favor, there was the possibility that one or more jurors could not see it my way, causing a mistrial. That could leave me sitting here another nine months or more, or longer if it keeps repeating that way.
This is Mississippi, and some people refuse to let go of their old ways from the old days. I just didn’t want to put my family through any more heartache, and didn’t want to have to wait any longer. It was take a chance of a mistrial, or grab hold of my future and be the man/father/friend that I can be, and that my family loves and misses.
Given the shenanigans the prosecutors and their witnesses got away with in the original trial, one can hardly blame Maye for taking the deal, securing his release, and getting as far away from Mississippi as possible.
The Cory Maye case is the case is one that has transformed how I view the criminal justice system over recent years. The idea that an individual could be convicted and put on death row for defending his home against who he believed to be unlawful intruders who turned out to be police conducting a no-knock raid made me question everything I thought I knew about the system. As I followed this case at The Agitator, I was introduced to many other similar cases of injustice and concluded that our system is far too prone to error for me to continue supporting the notion of the death penalty. I’m hopeful that many others were similarly touched by this case and that this will eventually lead to reforming the system for the better.
As these three cases demonstrate, justice may not be possible but with people in high places doing the right thing (often from pressure from regular concerned citizens) a semblance of justice is possible.