HR 626 would similarly pay Kerry Robinson $480,000 for the 18 years he served for a 2002 Moultrie rape he didn’t commit. He was freed in 2020 using DNA evidence.
The lawyers for both exonerees initially sought larger compensation packages from lawmakers to account for lost wages, personal injury, emotional distress and other damages, but budget writers indicated there was only so much room in the state budget.
Meanwhile, legislators opted to kill HB 1354, which would have standardized the way the state compensates such exonerees. The legislation overwhelmingly passed the Georgia House but was shelved in a Senate committee last week after key Republicans suggested it needed more vetting. House supporters added the language to another bill early Monday, but it wasn’t called up in either chamber.
The measure’s bipartisan sponsors argued that the way the state currently compensates the wrongfully convicted is inefficient, inconsistent and often gets bogged down by politics. They proposed paying exonerees $50,000 to $100,000 per year spent behind bars and creating a panel of appointees, all subject matter experts in wrongful convictions or criminal justice, to vet their compensation claims.
Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, one of the bill’s lead sponsors, said supporters would try again next year.
“We need to reform how we handle compensating the innocent so that the focus is on the exonerees and not on politics,” the former prosecutor said. “The foundation for change has been laid, and I believe our proposal—or something similar—will pass next year.”
Earlier this spring, lawmakers had shelved a compensation bill for a third exoneree, Ashley Jordan, who was 12 years into a life sentence when the Georgia Supreme Court overturned her conviction last year.
After Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporting found issues with the alibi of a previous suspect, lawyers representing Dennis Perry, the man convicted of the double murder, decided to conduct a DNA test. DNA found at the scene matched that of the old suspect, the lawyers said. The GBI reopened the murder investigation and formed a task force. On July 17, 2020, the DNA results led a judge to overturn Perry’s conviction. Perry was released on bond July 23, 2020, and was exonerated on July 19, 2021.