With the help of DNA testing, Texas has freed more wrongly convicted people than any other state. Soon it will compensate them better than any other state, too.
The Texas House voted in favors of a bill to boost payments to the wrongly convicted. It now heads to Gov. Rick Perry.
The governor is expected to sign the legislation, which is named for Tim Cole, a Fort Worth man who died in prison in 1999 while serving time for a rape that DNA testing later showed he did not commit.
The bill increases lump sum payments from $50,000 to $80,000 for every year of confinement and grants an annuity to provide a lifetime of income. Exonerees will get 120 hours of paid tuition at a career center or public college. Senators removed a provision to provide health insurance coverage for exonerees.
It also provides an additional $25,000 for each year a wrongly convicted person spends on parole or as a registered sex offender. No other state has such a provision, said Barry Scheck, the co-director of The Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center specializing in overturning wrongly convictions.
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The bill would give the wrongly convicted in Texas the most generous compensation package in the nation.
"It is a landmark bill," Scheck said. "For a fixed damage award, it's the highest in the country."
Cory Session, Cole's brother, said his brother died "a martyr for innocence." The likely passage of the bill, he said, makes "you walk a little taller and stick out your chest out a little farther."
"Almost 25 years ago, the only thing people knew about Tim Cole's name was he was a convicted rapist," Session said. "Now they know his name stands for a lot more."
The compensation applies only to wrongly convicted people who were actually innocent. Those whose convictions are reversed on technicalities such as insufficient evidence would not be eligible. Also ineligible would be exonerees who are subsequently convicted of felonies.