Legislature Considers Bills to Help Wrongly Convicted

Several bills are asking the Texas Legislature to increase compensation and expand help for wrongly convicted people when they are freed.

Unlike parolees, exonerees in Texas get almost no help from the state when they first re-enter society.

James Woodard, 56, got out of prison after serving 27 years nearly a year ago. He's still savoring his freedom, but his financial future is not so certain.

"I exist on gifts from people who help me, solely," Woodard said. "I don't have any money."

On the advice of his attorneys, Woodard said he has not accepted the state compensation currently available to those recently freed after wrongful convictions. But he said he would likely accept the terms if a new exoneree compensation bill wins approval from state legislators.

DNA evidence has freed 36 wrongly convicted people in Texas, including 19 in Dallas County.

HB 1736 was proposed by State Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas. It's also known as the "Tim Cole Act," named for the Fort Worth man who died in prison before DNA evidence could clear his name.

The bill would increase the one-time lump sum compensation for the wrongly convicted from $50,000 to $80,000 per year of incarceration. A wrongfully convicted person who spent 10 years in prison would get $800,000. Plus, if applicable, they will get a lump sum of $25,000 per year spent on parole or as a registered sex offender.

Anchia's bill would also allow monthly payments for life based on a 5 percent annual return from an amount equal to the lump sum and would provide health insurance.

Woodard said money can't make up for all of the time and life he has lost, but it will help him.

"You can just hope to be comfortable, so you don't have to worry about debts or bills, your health, or your loved ones," he said.

The Innocence Project of Texas supports the bills.

"You have men like James Woodard pushing 60 years old. What kind of job should he go and get now? Should he go back to college? That sounds ridiculous when you think about it," said Joyce King, a board member. "But the money, the health care that comes with the package if passed, gives these men a decent shot at a life; some type of life."

Compensation is just one of the issues being tackled by state legislators regarding the wrongly convicted.

Other bills relate to issues of recording interrogations and how photograph and live lineups should be handled.

Witness misidentification is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions.

Contact Us