March 27, 2007
A moral debt to the exonerated
St. Petersburg Times, Editorial
How much is a year of your liberty worth? What is fair compensation for
being wrongfully imprisoned for 24 years? In Alan Crotzer's case, so far,
it's nothing. Crotzer, who lives in St. Petersburg, was convicted of a
brutal double rape and robbery that occurred in 1981. He was sentenced to
130 years in prison. DNA evidence later proved that he was innocent, as he
and alibi witnesses had asserted all along.
When Crotzer was released from prison in January 2006 after having spent
more than 24 years incarcerated, the state opened the gate and let him out
without providing him with any compensation or services to help him
transition back into a normal life.
There is no excuse for exonerated inmates being treated with such
indifference. The state stole years of their lives - the time when people
establish themselves in jobs and raise a family. This time can never be
recovered, and it is the moral duty of the state to make amends with
Legislation has been introduced in both houses that would address this need.
House Bill 125, sponsored by Rep. Priscilla Taylor, D-West Palm Beach, and
its companion, SB 2464, sponsored by Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, would
award those exonerated $50,000 for every year they were wrongfully
imprisoned. The statutes are modeled on federal legislation that encourages
an automatic process. At least 21 states have similar compensation laws. But
the measures are stuck in committee with no hearings scheduled. If leaders
in the Legislature or the governor don't start to take a personal interest
in this issue, another year will go by without action. That would be
Since 2001, six men have been exonerated in Florida, including Frank Lee
Smith, who was found innocent of his crimes only after dying of cancer as he
awaited execution on death row. Of these, only Wilton Dedge, who spent 22
years in prison, has received compensation, because he had influential
people lobbying on his behalf.
It shouldn't take lawyers and lobbyists converging on Tallahassee in each
individual case of injustice for the state to meet its obligations. If
someone is imprisoned and later found innocent, he or she should receive
automatic recompense. It is that simple.
While in prison, Crotzer was not allowed to attend his mother's funeral. His
daughter grew up without him. We owe him much more than $50,000 a year, but
that is the least we can do.
Source : St. Petersburg Times, Editorial