Bryan P. Sears//June 17, 2020
//June 17, 2020
Two brothers exonerated last year after serving 24 years in prison for a murder conviction will be paid nearly $4 million in combined restitution from the state of Maryland.
The payments to Eric Simmons and Kenneth McPherson are the latest in a string of awards made in the last year to men wrongfully convicted of crimes. The Board of Public Works approved the payments Wednesday at the same time they finalized payment schedules for three others who were awarded compensation earlier after spending 35 years in prison.
“You really can’t get that time back,” said Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who is African American and chaired the board meeting. “The compensation is really just small when it comes to 24 and 35 years of your life taken away from you.
Rutherford said the vote represented “an opportunity, a moment in time, when we can make some systemic changes that hopefully we won’t have this kind of situation occurring in the future.”
Rutherford was joined by Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp in unanimous approval of the payments.
“I don’t like the term very much – erroneous conviction is so antiseptic,” said Kopp. “People who went to prison for extended times, unfairly, unjustly are finally coming to some sense of justice and I think we all agree …we owe these gentleman not only a financial payment, which we are making but our sincere apologies and resolution to oversee changes in the system which will prevent this from happening in the future.”
Both men were arrested and accused of murdering Anthony Wooden, 21, in East Baltimore. Both men served 8,751 days in prison.
But nearly three years ago, the men wrote Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and proclaimed their innocence. The letter triggered a reinvestigation of the crime from a team made up of prosecutors as well as Innocence Projects at the University of Baltimore and George Washington University.
Those investigators not only were able to confirm the alibis of Simmons and McPherson, they tracked down a witness who confirmed both men were not involved in the crime.
The men were exonerated during a hearing in Baltimore City Circuit Court last year.
Mosby’s Conviction Integrity Unit has exonerated at least nine individuals by writs of actual innocence.
The three-member board voted to pay Simmons and McPherson each more than $1.9 million over seven years.
“The compensation obviously cannot make up for the many, many decades, frankly that they spent behind bars separated from their families, friends and loved ones — years that they could have spent pursuing their hopes and dreams,” said Franchot. “Instead, they were locked up. Like all individuals who have been locked up wrongfully, all of these men are victims of a broken criminal justice system. Frankly, it plagues the nation.”
Franchot said he hoped the action taken by the board “provides some solace and vindication.”
The payments come despite the failure of the Maryland General Assembly to pass legislation establishing a method for compensating those who are wrongfully convicted.
Current law authorizes the Board of Public Works to compensate certain exonerated individuals. Gov. Larry Hogan, has repeatedly called for the passage of such legislation, saying the board lacked the ability to determine how to compensate the exonerated men.
Legislation this past session provided for a standard amount of compensation per year of incarceration — $78,916, based on the state’s median household income. Eligibility would be determined by administrative law judges if the person were pardoned by the governor, the state’s attorney certifies their conviction was in error or the administrative law judge finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the conviction was in error.
The bill, named after exoneree Walter Lomax, who served 39 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, was approved by the House of Delegates but died on the Senate floor as Republicans voiced objections during the final hours of a session cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.
The amount of the award — $81,868 per year — is based on the median income in the state of Maryland, according to census data. The panel also approved nearly $11,000 for each man for mental health and financial counseling services.
Simmons and McPherson are among the eight men who have recently been compensated after serving lengthy sentences after being wrongfully convicted.
In October, the board voted to approve more than $9 million for five wrongly incarcerated men — Jerome Johnson, Lamar Johnson, Walter Lomax, Clarence Shipley and Hubert James Williams — who spent a combined 120 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.
In March, the panel approved more than $2.9 million in compensation for Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart. The trio have already received initial payments.
On Wednesday, the board approved a final payment schedule that will pay each of the three $46,728 within the next month and an additional $472,762, beginning July 1 with payments terminating in 2025.