Wrongful conviction compensation system could see overhaul in Massachusetts

In an effort to overhaul Massachusetts’ compensation system for people who have been wrongfully convicted, state lawmakers have proposed a bill that would not only expedite access to the money owed to the wrongly incarcerated, but also connect them with social services already available to returning citizens, but that continue to be withheld from those who are innocent.The proposal would revamp the current compensation system, which has long been criticized by justice reform advocates for its inability to provide immediate relief to people who have been wrongfully imprisoned.“I came home to nothing except the clothes on my back and my family and friends,” said Sean Ellis, whose battle to overturn his wrongful conviction was the subject of the Netflix docuseries Trial 4. Released from prison in 2015, Ellis testified Tuesday at a State House hearing on the proposal that he waited another six years before receiving any compensation or support from the government in 2021.“I didn’t know how to work a cell phone, I didn’t know how to manage my bank account, I didn’t know how to sign up for health care,” he said. “When you first come home, it’s like a big celebration. But then life happens and you become somewhat of a burden to those that love you and care about you.”The proposal, spearheaded by state Senator Patricia Jehlen of Somerville and Representatives Christopher Worrell of Boston and Jeffrey Roy of Franklin, would provide those wrongly convicted with $5,000 immediately upon release, and another $15,000 once legal proceedings begin.Additionally, Jehlen, a Democrat, said it would remove the cap on the maximum amount a person is allowed to be compensated, and lower the burden of proof to be the same as other civil cases, while also mandating that these cases be given priority in the justice system. Every wrongfully convicted person would also be entitled to a social service advocate to help set them up with basic services, such as an ID, health care, job training, and housing.The Department of Correction “takes care of every need you have when you’re in there,” said Robert Foxworth, another exoneree who testified Tuesday. “They feed you, they clothe you, your medical … but when they let you out, they just turn the key and set you free.”He added, “when we come out, we’re newborn again, we’re like babies. We’re lost, and we need help.”Under the current compensation system, it can years before wrongfully convicted people receive the money they are owed, forcing them to rely on the charity of friends and family, or search for a bed among already overcrowded emergency shelters.Foxworth voiced his frustration that, as an innocent man, he returned home with fewer available resources than people who were guilty. He told legislators that, after being released, he waited 18 months before receiving his first payment from the state. While he applauded the progress state officials have made in transitional services available to parolees, he questioned why those same services weren’t available to those wrongly convicted.“I shouldn’t have to live at the Pine Street Inn for years, I shouldn’t have to steal something to eat,” he said. “You wish you could just go back to your life before, but you can’t. It’s gone, everything’s gone.”Shar’Day Taylor, a social services advocate with the New England Innocence Project, highlighted housing as a particular concern for people wrongfully convicted, who aren’t eligible for other transitional housing programs typically offered to returning citizens. Those lucky enough to secure a spot often find themselves in housing limbo, unable to apply for affordable housing without proper identification.“They’re put on waiting lists that are backed up for decades,” Taylor said. “Exonerees are in competition with that population, and access to vouchers is nonexistent because we are not on the record as being present” in society.The burden of proof to win compensation after a wrongful conviction is also higher than other civil suits in Massachusetts, and many people seeking relief settle for much less than what a jury would award them. Those who do hold out for a jury trial can only receive a maximum of $1 million, regardless of how many years they spent in prison, even if jurors determine the person is entitled to more.Boston College Law Professor Sharon Beckman called the cap “regressive,” because “the more time an innocent person spends in prison, the less compensation per year they receive.”Senator Jehlen stressed that exonerees deserve to be paid the full amount for the time they never should have spent in prison, and that it is the state’s obligation to lift all barriers to those resources.“When a person is sentenced to prison, we say they’re paying a debt to society,” Jehlen said. “But what does society owe an innocent person after taking decades of their life unjustly?”Ivy Scott can be reached at ivy.scott@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @itsivyscott.

North Carolina to pay $7.5M over wrongful conviction

The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and its insurers will pay $7.5 million to the estate of a North Carolina man who was wrongfully convicted of a 1976 murder.

Charles Ray Finch died in January at 83. He was freed from a North Carolina prison three years ago after a federal judge overturned his murder conviction for which he spent 43 years in prison. The parties reached a settlement agreement that was finalized Tuesday, The Wilson Times reported.

In December 2019, Finch filed a federal lawsuit against Wilson County, its current sheriff, two former deputies and two NCSBI employees, The News & Observer reported at the time.

The lawsuit accused the respective agencies of corruption, specifically that the former deputies framed Finch for murder, an SBI agent covered for the sheriff’s office and an SBI general counsel later hid evidence that would have cleared Finch.

The original civil complaint

Simone Biles, other Olympic gymnasts seeking $1 billion from FBI over botched sex abuse investigation

Attorneys for more than 90 women and girls who were sexually abused by disgraced former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar submitted claims for over $1 billion to the FBI, saying investigators could have ended Nassar’s predation and protected other victims had they not mishandled the case.

The claimants include Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney and world championship medalist Maggie Nichols. Each has asked for $50 million, according to the law firm that represents them.
DOJ declines for 3rd time to bring charges against former FBI agents who botched Nassar case
DOJ declines for 3rd time to bring charges against former FBI agents who botched Nassar case
Gymnasts Kaylee Lorincz and Hannah Morrow are each asking for $42.5 million, the attorneys said. Lawyers say most of the 90 women are asking for $10 million each;

$121.5M settlement in New Mexico clergy sex abuse scandal

One of the oldest Catholic dioceses in the United States announced a settlement agreement Tuesday to resolve a bankruptcy case in New Mexico that resulted from a clergy sex abuse scandal.

The tentative deal totals $121.5 million and would involve about 375 claimants.

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The proposed settlement comes as the Catholic Church continues to wrestles with a sex abuse and cover-up scandal that has spanned the globe. Some of the allegations in New Mexico date back decades.

The chairman of a creditors committee that negotiated the agreement on behalf of the surviving victims and others said it would hold the Archdiocese of Santa Fe accountable for the abuse and result in one of the largest diocese contributions to a bankruptcy settlement in U.S. history.

It also includes a non-monetary agreement with the Archdiocese to create a public archive of documents regarding the history of the sexual abuse claims,

Chicago archdiocese settles sex abuse suit for $1.2 million

The Archdiocese of Chicago has agreed to pay $1.2 million to a man who alleged that he was sexually abused when he was 12 years old by a defrocked priest who was convicted of sexually abusing several boys, the man’s attorney announced on Tuesday.

The settlement of the case before a lawsuit was filed was announced in a news release by attorney Lyndsay Markley and marks the latest chapter in the story of Daniel McCormack, one of the most notorious pedophiles in the history of Chicago’s archdiocese.

McCormack, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to sexually abusing five children while he was a priest at St. Agatha’s parish in Chicago, was released from prison last fall and has registered as a sex offender with the Illinois State Police. According to published reports, he was listed at that time as living in Chicago’s Near North neighborhood.

The settlement follows other similar settlements

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