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Hogan signs law requiring exonerees be compensated

The Walter Lomax Act is named after an exoneree who served 39 years in prison for a murder he did not commit and who suffered a near-fatal heart attack in Annapolis while lobbying lawmakers to pass compensation legislation. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

The Walter Lomax Act is named after an exoneree who served 39 years in prison for a murder he did not commit and who suffered a near-fatal heart attack in Annapolis while lobbying lawmakers to pass compensation legislation. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday signed into law legislation ensuring the wrongly convicted receive financial compensation from the state for their years in prison.

The statute, which the Senate and House of Delegates passed with no votes in opposition, requires the state’s Board of Public Works to approve the compensation amount based on a formula set forth in the act. Under the prior law, the three-member board – consisting of the governor, comptroller and treasurer – had discretion to compensate the wrongly convicted.

The act provides for a standard amount of compensation per year of incarceration — about $84,000 based on the state’s median household income — and assigns the assessment of eligibility to administrative law judges.

The law makes people eligible for compensation if they were fully pardoned by the governor or an administrative law judge finds by clear and convincing evidence that the conviction was erroneous based on several factors, including that the charges were dismissed, the conviction was reversed or a retrial resulted in acquittal.

The statute has been dubbed the Walter Lomax Act in honor of an exoneree who served 39 years in prison for a murder he did not commit and who suffered a near-fatal heart attack in Annapolis last year while lobbying lawmakers to pass compensation legislation.

Lomax was wrongly convicted for the 1967 murder of Robert Brewer at the Giles Food Market he managed in Baltimore. Lomax was awarded about $3 million in compensation from the Board of Public Works in October 2019, nearly 13 year after his release from prison.

“I am humbled and honored that this bill has been named after me,” Lomax told the House Judiciary Committee in February.

“Each individual (exoneree) is going to experience a great deal of trauma and no one is the same,” Lomax added. “The best or the least that can be done is that they can be compensated in a timely fashion so that they can at least be able to live some type of quality life moving forward,” he added. “That is why it is so important that this piece of legislation be passed.”

The law’s enactment followed the Board of Public Works’ award of about $13 million in the past 13 months to five men who were wrongly convicted and spent decades in prison.

In June, the board awarded nearly $4 million to brothers Eric Simmons and Kenneth McPherson who served 24 years in prison after being wrongly convicted for the 1994 murder of 21-year-old Anthony Wooden in East Baltimore.

In March 2020, the board awarded nearly $3 million each to Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart who served 36 years in prison after being wrongly convicted for the 1983 murder of 14-year-old DeWitt Duckett in the hallway of Harlem Park Junior High School in Baltimore.

The five men were exonerated following investigations by Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s Conviction Integrity Unit.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore County, was the chief sponsor of the Senate legislation, Senate Bill 14. Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery, was chief sponsor of the cross-filed House Bill 742.


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