Friday, August 15, 2008

One million dollars for victim of wrongful rape conviction won't make him whole

Inmate freed by DNA test could collect $1 million

Tuesday, August 12, 2008 3:19 AM
By Randy Ludlow


As a prison inmate, Robert McClendon earned $18 a month at his recreation job in the Chillicothe Correctional Institution.

As a wrongfully imprisoned man, McClendon could become a millionaire.

Freed yesterday after serving 18 years for a rape he did not commit, McClendon appears to be in line for a seven-figure payout of public dollars.

"I am counting my blessings, not my money," the 52-year-old Columbus man said yesterday.

State law provides for $44,204 in compensation for each year behind bars for exonerated inmates -- about $796,000 in McClendon's case.

He also is entitled to damages for lost wages, attorney's fees and other costs that could raise the total to more than $1 million.

McClendon was released after a DNA test of semen on the victim's underwear proved he was not the man who abducted and raped a 10-year-old Columbus girl in 1990.

His case was one of 30 that The Dispatch highlighted in its "Test of Convictions" series in January as a prime candidate for DNA testing.

McClendon is the first inmate featured in the newspaper's series to be freed.

The court action that led to McClendon's release did not include a finding that he was wrongfully imprisoned. So he and his attorneys will have to go back to court to obtain such a determination.

Once that ruling is in hand, McClendon could go to the Ohio Court of Claims, where a judge will calculate how much money he is owed on top of the state compensation formula of $121.11 a day.

His lost wages would be calculated, and potentially adjusted for inflation, after determining how much he made as a construction worker, recreation worker and singer with a band before imprisonment.

The state has paid nearly $12.2 million in damages to 35 wrongfully incarcerated inmates since 1984, according to records.

Two Columbus men wrongfully convicted of killing an elderly guard during a 1976 bank robbery in Bexley received the two highest awards after being released from prison in 2003. Timothy Howard, who died last year, received $2.5 million in compensation and legal fees; Gary James received $1.5 million. They were imprisoned for 26 years.

Columbus lawyer James Owen, who represented the two men, said money alone is far from adequate compensation for denial of freedom. "The damage that it does to some of these people is incalculable," Owen said.

"I spoke to Gary James" yesterday, he said. "He's still suffering the consequences. … Adjustment is unbelievably difficult for these men. What they get is a pittance of what they deserve."