Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wrongfully convicted dealt another blow


No big-time lobbyist to fix their legislation. That was their second big mistake.
The first, of course, was embarrassing the state by getting themselves convicted for someone else's crime. That's no way to make friends in Tallahassee.

The wrongfully convicted just don't know how to work the Legislature. It's as obvious as those nasty little amendments that have been inserted into a misnomer of a bill called ``Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act.''

The legislation supposedly would award this hapless bunch $50,000 for every year spent behind bars for crimes they didn't commit. House Bill 1025 also tosses in compensation for counseling, housing, health insurance and college tuition.

That 50 grand a year, if it was real, would add up to a decent sum for the nine guys who accumulated $7,650,000 worth of hard time in Florida prisons before they were cleared by DNA tests.


It's almost as if Florida wants to do right by all those ruined lives. The legislation would finally standardize an infamously arbitrary compensation system that requires the wrongfully convicted to come begging, year after year, until some sympathetic legislators take an interest. (Freddy Lee Pitts and Wilbert Lee were pardoned in 1975 after their shoddy 1963 murder conviction was unraveled by legendary Miami Herald reporter Gene Miller. Another 23 years passed before the Legislature was shamed into voting them $500,000 each for their lost years.)

But the intent of this session's amendment-riddled legislation has evolved into a kind of punishment for these impostor convicts for taking up the precious prison cells. Under the bill wending through the Legislature (key hearings are scheduled Tuesday in both the House and Senate), none of the nine men cleared by DNA testing in Florida would actually qualify for state compensation.

Larry Bostic, wrongly convicted of a Fort Lauderdale rape, did 19 years. Orlando Boquete, convicted of a rape and robbery in the Florida Keys, served 13. Alan Crotzer spent 24 years in prison for a rape and robbery he didn't commit. Cody Davis did six months before the crime lab in Palm Beach County checked the DNA on an armed robber's ski mask. Wilton Dedge did 22 years for a Brevard County rape conviction. Luis Diaz, the so-called Bird Road Rapist of Miami-Dade County who, as it turned out, wasn't, served 25 years. Chad Heins did a 13-year stretch for rape and murder. Frank Lee Smith died after 14 years on Death Row. Both Smith and another Fort Lauderdale man, Jerry Frank Townsend, who spent 22 years in prison, had been convicted of murders actually committed by serial killer Eddie Lee Mosley.


Of the nine, only Wilton Dedge has been able to wrangle compensation out of the state Legislature ($2 million in 2005). The rest, under HB 1025 (the Senate is expected to adopt similar language) would be out of the money.

A so-called ''clean hands'' amendment disqualifies any wrongfully convicted chump with a prior, unrelated felony conviction. Of course, when cops go looking for a quickie arrest, they aren't picking their patsies from the Rotary Club.

That nifty amendment's a big money saver. A legislative report on the fiscal impact of the bill calculates, with ''very few people eligible,'' the cost would be essentially zilch.

At least the legislation doesn't charge the wrongfully convicted room and board for all those years they mooched off the state penal system.

Not yet, anyway.

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