"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Texas: Former death row inmate not eligible for exoneration funds

Alfred Dewayne Brown
Alfred Dewayne Brown
Alfred Dewayne Brown's conviction in the slaying of a Houston police officer was overturned.

The state of Texas has rejected a request from former death row inmate Alfred Dewayne Brown for almost $2 million in compensation, saying he does not qualify for funds given to former inmates who have been exonerated.

State Comptroller Glenn Hegar said Brown's claim does not meet the mandatory requirements under Texas law because he has never been formally determined to be "actually innocent" in the shooting death of a Houston police officer.

"Our office is purely ministerial in nature and we have to look at the documents," Hegar said. "This is one of those situations that does not have the required, necessary information to be approved."

Brown's attorneys said Thursday they are prepared to go to court to fight for funds to compensate Brown for the more than 12 years he spent behind bars. Brown has maintained his innocence.

"It's surprising that the comptroller would ignore the Texas Supreme Court, but it has," said attorney Neal Manne, who received written notice Thursday of the decision. "The letter ignores current state law. It ignores what the Texas Supreme Court has clearly said regarding the right to compensation."

The case likely will end up back in court for a ruling on the legal definition of "actual innocence."

Brown, 34, was convicted of capital murder in the 2003 shooting death of Officer Charles Clark but his conviction was overturned by an appeals court. The Harris County District Attorney's Office decided there was not enough credible evidence to try the case again, and the charges were dismissed.

In February, Brown requested state money typically paid to exonerees from the Comptroller of Public Accounts, who serves as the state's chief accountant and treasurer. Determining eligibility in such cases falls to the agency under law.

Similar case seen

Brown's lawyers said they will appeal to the state office and, if necessary, file a lawsuit to force the agency to compensate him. The lawyers said they are relying on a case that awarded state money to another former inmate in a similar situation.

In that case, Billy Frederick Allen, a Dallas County man who spent almost 26 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, an appeals court ruled that newly discovered evidence was so strong that it satisfied the requirement for determining "actual innocence."

State law stipulates former inmates can be compensated if they a receive a full pardon on the basis of innocence, if a court rules they are "actually innocent," or if the case is dismissed and a prosecutor certifies they are "actually innocent."

Brown's conviction was overturned because phone records that could have bolstered his alibi were not given to the defense as required under the rules of evidence. The case was sent back to a lower court for a retrial.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson dismissed the charges, however, saying there was not enough evidence to proceed with a new trial.

She stopped short of saying that she believed Brown was the killer, but officials with the Houston Police Officers' Union have loudly maintained that Brown is the prime suspect. But too much time has passed and too many witnesses have changed their stories to go to trial, union officials said.

"The law was written for people who were wrongly convicted and who were not the perpetrators - in situations where DNA or something clears them," said union president Ray Hunt. "Not if you've got witnesses who are scared to testify or won't testify. That's not the intent of the law."

He said union lawyers have reviewed the law and say Brown is not eligible for the funds. The district attorney's office declined to comment Thursday on the state's decision.

Brown's release continues to vex law enforcement. Earlier this week, the union put up another billboard offering $100,000 in hopes of gathering information that could lead to the conviction in the shooting death of the officer. Clark was killed during a robbery of a check-cashing store, along with store clerk Alfredia Jones.

Law changed before

State lawmakers have already changed the law to allow compensation in other high-profile exonerations.

In the case of Anthony Graves, who is arguably the Houston area's most famous exoneree, state law was changed to allow prosecutors to certify that he was "actually innocent" to make him eligible for compensation. Graves spent almost 20 years in prison, including 12 on death row, after being convicted in 1992 of capital murder in the deaths of six people.

Lawyers for Brown believe he is eligible for two avenues of compensation.

The first is a lump sum of $973,589 based on a rate of $80,000 a year for more than 12 years behind bars. The second is an annuity of the same amount, split into monthly payments for the rest of his life. The potential total package would be $1.9 million.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, who stood with Brown as he announced that he was seeking the money in February, said Thursday that the state owes the money.

"If Texas is willing to spend millions of dollars to wrongfully convict and keep someone on death row," Ellis said, "the least the state can do is invest to help them put their life back together once they're released."

Source: The Houston Chronicle, April 13, 2016

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