Wrongfully convicted will drop lawsuits for more compensation

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by By BRAD WATSON / WFAA-TV

wfaa.com

Posted on January 16, 2009 at 6:43 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 19 at 4:52 PM

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Brad Watson reports.

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They're dropping their lawsuits, as long as the legislature pays up.

Ten wrongfully convicted prisoners freed by DNA evidence won't sue Dallas and Irving on one condition.

It could save taxpayers millions of dollars.

After the excitement for James Woodard of winning freedom after 27 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, the hardness of reality set in.

The 56-year-old says of returning to free world life, "It's too much for me to take in all at once. I have to go step by step."

Woodard, who's jobless, is eligible to receive $1.3 million from the state.

Nine other wrongfully convicted prisoners, who filed civil rights suits against Dallas and Irving. could receive similar sums.

But they claim the amounts dwindle fast.

Charles Chatman served 26 and a half years for a rape he didn't commit. "Back taxes, lawyer fees and debts is going to eat all that up," he said of the amount.

Under current law, a wrongfully convicted prisoner gets $50,000 for each year in prison.

These ex-prisoners are dropping their lawsuits providing the legislature increases the amount to $250,000 per year, with half up front and half in an annuity, to make annual payments for the rest of their lives.

Their attorney is Kevin Glasheen of Lubbock. "It's going to take not just money to compensate them for the past but also money to take care of them in the future because they don't have the skills to take care of themselves like you and I would," he said.

They're looking now to the Dallas City Council to urge North Texas lawmakers to support a bill to be filed soon.

Billy Smith, who spent 19 years behind bars for an aggravated sexual assault he didn't do, hopes lawmakers agree.

"It's not about who's right or who's wrong but it's about being fair... I think this would be a good faith thing."

If lawmakers don't raise compensation, the deal's off and the lawsuits against the cities, are back on.

Jury verdicts on comparable lawsuits have been about $10 million per case.

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