Money will be used to provide transitional services
Without even a bus ticket to send him home to Wisconsin, Chad Heins was released from 14 years of wrongful incarceration for murder.
Larry Bostic went from prison, where he was serving time for a rape he did not commit, to a homeless shelter.
The Innocence Project of Florida has established an Exoneree Emergency Fund to help provide crucial transitional services to Florida’s exonerees when they are released from wrongful incarceration.
“Chad Heins, Larry Bostic, and all exonerees have suffered more than we can even imagine,” said Seth Miller, IPF’s executive director. “And while we believe the State of Florida should be tripping over itself to compensate these citizens, we’ve come to realize that the reverse is true.”
So far, only Wilton Dedge has been compensated by the State of Florida, when on December 8, 2005, the legislature gave him $2 million for 22 years he spent in prison for a rape he didn’t commit.
In the final days of the 2007 session, another exoneree — Alan Crotzer, who spent 24 years in prison for a 1981 rape, kidnapping, and robbery he did not commit — came very close to being compensated.
But his hopes for compensation were dashed when the House amended a $1.25 million compensation payment for Crotzer onto another bill that provided $5 million for the parents of Martin Lee Anderson, who died at a Bay County boot camp after allegedly mistreated by guards. Senate leaders, however, insisted that the bill only compensate Anderson’s parents — not Crotzer.
A global compensation bill in the Senate would have helped Crotzer and others wrongfully convicted by paying $50,000 a year of wrongful incarceration. It passed the Judiciary and Criminal Justice committees, but died in Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee.
“Anderson’s family deserved to get paid. It was so unfortunate it was all happening at the same time, because I think last year we would have had the momentum to pass either the global bill or Al Crotzer’s claims bill — or both,” Miller said. “The folks in the Senate are far more in favor of a comprehensive strategy that takes speculation out of the process. The only thing we have speculated about is who is coming next.”
This year, a crowd of legislators have lined up to sponsor claims bills for Crotzer. In the Senate, SB12 is co-sponsored by Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres; Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee; and Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon. In the House, HB 1 is sponsored by Rep. Luis Garcia, D-Miami, and co-sponsored by Rep. Mary Brandenburg, D-Lake Worth; Rep. Ronald Brisé, D-N. Miami; Rep. Charles Chestnut, D-Gainesville; Rep. Joyce Cusack, D-Deland; Rep. Joseph Gibbons, D-Pembroke Park; Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater; Rep. Martin Kiar, D-Parkland; Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg; Rep. Janet Long, D-St. Petersburg; Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs; Rep. Ari Porth, D-Coral Springs; and Rep. Yolly Roberson, D-N. Miami Beach.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, has filled SB 58 asking for $5 million to compensate another exoneree — Luis Diaz, a married man with no criminal convictions and father of three, who was released August 3, 2005, at age 67, after serving 25 years wrongfully convicted as the Bird Road Rapist, the name given to the attacker of more than 25 women in Coral Gables.
This year, the Florida Innocence Project hopes a bill for global compensation gets traction so that a fair system is in place to compensate exonorees so that they all get paid fairly and in a timely manner: $50,000 a year for each year of wrongful incarceration, a formal apology from the State of Florida, and 120 hours of education at a state-run community college or university.
“There is a chance Al Crotzer’s bill will pass this time and a global bill won’t,” Miller said. “But what that will leave is exactly the unfair process where a guy like Larry (Bostic) is sitting around waiting, wondering, ‘What about me?’ . . . If we pass a global bill, everybody gets paid fairly and in a timely manner.”
Meantime, while hoping for legislative action, some exonerees have immediate needs for basic necessities.
“The creation of the Exoneree Emergency Fund is so vital to help fill the void left by the State of Florida’s failure to give just compensation to these men, who have been victims of decades of injustice,” Miller said. “These innocent men know they can’t get back the years stolen from their lives, but while they are waiting for the State of Florida to do the right thing, they should not be reduced to living in homeless shelters. Surely they deserve the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter. It’s the least we can do.”
For more information, contact the Exoneree Emergency Fund, Innocence Project of Florida, Inc., 1100 E. Park Avenue, Tallahassee 32301 or go online to www.floridainnocence.org/support_online.html. To learn more about Florida’s DNA exonerees, go to www.floridainnocence.org