Wonderful, Mr. Cox. You think it's reasonable to equate the incalculable wrong of a wrongful conviction with asking the state to compensate a victim who was, after all, convicted under state law.
I find it unfathomable, Mr. Cox, that you would adopt this cold-hearted position if the wrong being addressed affected women instead of men.
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Ken Wyniemko spent nearly nine years in prison for a rape he didn't commit. The Rochester Hills man says people wrongfully convicted and put behind bars should be compensated for the time they were denied freedom. He supports legislation pending in the state House that would allow the exonerated to sue the state for at least $50,000 for each year they spent locked up. The amount of compensation could go higher depending on the amount of lost wages and other costs associated with the imprisonment. The bill also would provide the wrongfully convicted with up to 10 years of physical and mental health care through the state employee system. Wyniemko, 56, received a $3.7 million settlement from Macomb County's Clinton Township and police after being released from prison in 2003. He was set free after a DNA test cleared him of raping a Clinton Township woman. He says the legislation, along with other proposals aimed at expanding the uses of DNA evidence, are needed to provide some sense of justice after an injustice has been done.
"No person in this country, and especially in this great state, should have to suffer like I did or like my family did," says Wyniemko, a former bowling alley manager who now works through a nonprofit foundation to make sure others who have been wrongfully convicted are exonerated.
"My goal is to try and reform the system as best as I can to ensure that what happened to me doesn't happen to anyone else," he says. Wyniemko was convicted in 1994 even though he steadfastly maintained he was innocent. He says the conviction came about in part because of false testimony from a jailhouse informant seeking a lighter sentence, and witness misidentification. Wyniemko missed his father's funeral in 2000 because he was behind bars. He missed the birth of two grandchildren. The Innocence Project, based in New York, says that 22 other states have laws to compensate the wrongfully convicted. The organization says the laws are needed because people who lost years due to a wrongful conviction often have no money, housing or health care when they are finally exonerated. But Attorney General Mike Cox sees drawbacks to the bill. He says it could force the state to pay out large sums of money even though the wrongful convictions were the fault of other agencies or departments. Most people are sent to prison through charges pursued by local prosecutors in county courts.
"That's not fair and makes no sense," Cox spokesman Rusty Hills said in a written statement. "State taxpayers shouldn't be forced to pay for someone else's mistake. I understand that wrongful conviction is a terrible miscarriage of justice, but two wrongs don't make a right." The bill also could run into opposition because it might give people the right to sue both state and local officials for damages. Wyniemko, for example, would be eligible to sue the state under the legislation as introduced, even though he got a settlement from the township and police. State Rep. Steve Bieda, a Democrat from Warren who's sponsoring the legislation, says the bill is needed to send a message that injustices will be righted.
"I kind of look at this as an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere," he says. "While this bill will only assist a select few, its importance is immeasurable — not only the message it sends to individuals around the state, but also the world, that we do believe in justice and that if someone has been aggrieved by the criminal justice system they should have a method of compensation for that." DNA testing has exonerated 215 people nationwide, according to the Innocence Project, including two in Michigan — Wyniemko and Eddie Joe Lloyd, who was convicted in 1985 for the murder and rape of a Detroit teen. Lloyd, a psychiatric patient, wrote to police about the case. He said police then gave him details about the case and urged him to confess in what he believed was an effort to smoke out the real killer. That confession, obtained from him while he was in a mental hospital and on medication, played a role in his conviction.
Lloyd eventually was exonerated. He was released from prison in 2002 and died about two years later. His family won $600,000 from the state and more from local governments after his death. Besides covering inmates exonerated through DNA evidence, the legislation could be broadened to cover other people, such as those whose guilty pleas were coerced or whose convictions were based on misidentification, faulty testimony or changes in evidence. The Bieda bill would add to other DNA testing legislation already passed by the House. Those measures would extend the time allowed to ask for retesting of DNA evidence and a new trial, and let felons convicted of a broader list of crimes request DNA retesting and new trials. The legislation also would require state departments to remove information pertaining to the conviction from their criminal databases when a judgment is overturned based on DNA evidence.
The wrongful conviction compensation bill is House Bill 4250.
On the Net:
Michigan Legislature: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/
The Innocence Project: http://www.innocenceproject.org/
Attorney General Mike Cox: http://www.michigan.gov/ag