Highest Court In Texas Orders State To Pay Just $2 Million To Man Inprisoned 26 Years On Bogus Conviction – Opens Door To Others Wrongfully Imprisoned To Receive Compensation

May 19, 2012

HOUSTON, TEXAS — The Texas Supreme Court has ordered the Lone Star State to pay more than $2 million to a former inmate who spent 26 years in prison for murder, a ruling that could set a precedent for compensating other prisoners whose convictions are overturned.

Billy Frederick Allen, now in his 60s, was convicted of two 1983 Dallas-area murders. Unlike other inmates freed after DNA evidence proved their innocence, Allen was freed in 2009 after a court found problems with witness testimony and his trial attorneys’ representation. Allen sued the state for compensation for wrongful imprisonment.

Allen’s attorney said the Supreme Court ruling may prove key to developing standards for when the state must compensate former prisoners.

“There are many cases where people are struggling and they don’t have DNA, but they now have hope,” Allen’s attorney, Kris Moore of McKinney, Texas, told the Los Angeles Times. “The implications of this for the Texas justice system are probably larger than people realize.”

He said the ruling may make it easier for inmates such as Richard Miles of Dallas – who served 14 years for crimes he didn’t commit, then spent two years awaiting a court ruling that finally came in February – to be compensated more quickly.

But he said it’s not clear what bearing Allen’s case may have on other ongoing high-profile exoneration battles. In one such case, Kerry Max Cook has written a book and attracted celebrity supporters in his fight to prove his innocence and receive compensation for serving 22 years on Texas’ death row for an East Texas murder he says he never committed.

Texas’ compensation law is the most generous in the U.S., according to officials at the New York-based Innocence Project. Freed inmates declared innocent by a judge, prosecutor or a governor’s pardon can collect $80,000 for every year of imprisonment, along with an annuity and medical and education benefits.

Dallas has become a lightning rod in the national debate over exonerations and capital punishment, with the most exonerations in Texas and the state’s first African-American district attorney who has championed the cause of exonerees.

But in Allen’s case, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs resisted paying, arguing that unlike other wrongfully convicted inmates, Allen did not have newly tested DNA or other evidence to prove his innocence.

On Friday, a spokesman for Combs’ office released a statement to the Times saying the state did not plan to appeal and was already processing Allen’s payment.

“Now that we have helpful guidance from the Supreme Court, we have immediately started the process of paying Billy Allen approximately $2 million for wrongful-imprisonment compensation,” spokesman R.J. DeSilva said in the statement. “The court’s decision will also help us pay any other exonerees with similar circumstances to Mr. Allen.”

DeSilva noted that Texas has already paid 80 exonerees $49.5 million in wrongful-imprisonment compensation.

The state Supreme Court ruled Allen had a legitimate claim, despite the fact that his innocence had not been established through DNA.

“While unlikely, it is conceivable that the state could compensate someone who is later found guilty of the crime,” the court said in the ruling. However, the court said, that should not be grounds for limiting compensation to some wrongfully convicted inmates and not others.

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Woman Awarded Workers Compensation In Australia For Sex Injury In Hotel While On Work Trip

April 19, 2012

AUSTRALIA – A woman who was injured while having sex in her hotel room during a work trip is entitled to compensation.

In the Federal Court today Justice John Nicholas ruled that the woman was injured during her “course of employment”.

The woman’s barrister argued that sex was an “ordinary incident of life” in a hotel room, much like showering and sleeping.

The Judge ruled that “if the applicant had been injured while playing a game of cards in her motel room she would be entitled to compensation” and the fact that the woman was engaged in sexual activity rather than some other lawful recreational activity while in her hotel room does not lead to any different result.

The woman, who cannot be named, challenged the rejection of her workers’ compensation claim for facial and psychological injuries suffered when a glass light fitting came away from the wall above the bed as she was having sex in November 2007.

The woman in her late thirties was required to travel to a country town by her employer, the Human Relations Section of the Commonwealth Government agency.

She arranged to meet a male friend there who lived in the town. They went to a restaurant for dinner and at about 10pm or 11pm went back to the woman’s motel room where they had sex that resulted in her injury.

The male friend said in his statement at the time that they were “going hard” and he did not know if they bumped the light or it just fell off.

“I think she was on her back when it happened but I was not paying attention because we are rolling around.”

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Botched Autopsy By Alabama Department Of Forensic Science Led To Woman Being Jailed For 9 Months On Bogus Capital Murder Charge

March 20, 2012

MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA – Alabama took the first step Tuesday toward paying nearly $119,000 to a church pianist and mother of two who was wrongfully jailed for nine months on a capital murder charge because of a botched autopsy on her newborn son.

The Senate’s General Fund committee unanimously approved the payment Tuesday for Bridget Lee, a 37-year-old from Carrollton in west Alabama.

“I feel blessed they are considering that, but there is no amount of money that will get my life back,” she said in a phone interview.

Alabama law allows the state Legislature to compensate people who are wrongfully incarcerated. The district attorney who initially prosecuted Lee, Chris McCool, said he never would have brought the case against her if he had been provided the correct facts from the beginning. He supports her getting compensated.

“Our job is not just to prosecute and win cases. Our job is to do justice,” he said in an interview.

Lee acknowledges the facts looked bad when she was arrested in November 2006.

The bank bookkeeper and Baptist church pianist had an affair in her small west Alabama town of 1,000, got pregnant and tried to keep it secret. She felt sick on Nov. 6, 2006, went home from work and delivered a premature baby in her bathroom. She panicked, placed the newborn in a plastic container and hid it in her vehicle for several days before a co-worker’s husband notified authorities.

Lee told investigators the baby was born dead, but a state forensic pathologist ruled the child was suffocated.

“I knew something was wrong because I knew I did not suffocate the baby, but I had no way to prove it,” Lee said.

She was indicted for capital murder, which carries the death penalty. She spent nine months in jail and 20 months on home confinement at her parents’ home.

During the ordeal, her husband divorced her and got custody of the children and their possessions.

Then her attorney got an independent expert to review the autopsy. His findings led the Alabama Department of Forensic Science to reopen the case and rule the child was stillborn. The department also reviewed dozens of other autopsies that the forensic pathologist performed during a brief stint with the department, but did not alter any of those.

Lee’s life is partially back in order. She has a full-time data entry job. She’s playing piano again at Aliceville First Baptist Church. And she’s engaged.

But she said she only has visitation with her children, ages 8 and 10, every other weekend. And her life will never be normal again because some people will always question what happened.

“I live in a small town, and it will always be there,” she said.

The payment to Lee is included in an appropriations measure that must be approved by the full Senate and House, and that must be signed by Gov. Robert Bentley.

The committee’s chairman, Republican Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur, said he expects that to happen because the payment has the backing of House and Senate leaders.

The $118,767 payment would amount to about $50,000 annually for the time she faced the capital murder charge.

“I pray and hope it passes because I lost everything. I lost my children and I lost my reputation,” Lee said.

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