ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Five men who were wrongly imprisoned for a combined 120 years will receive a total of about $9 million in compensation, a Maryland board decided Wednesday.
The Maryland Board of Public Works voted 3-0 for the compensation. In what amounts to the largest amount ever paid to an exoneree in the state, one man who was imprisoned for 38 years on an erroneous murder conviction will receive about $3 million.
Four of the men are black and one is white. Their cases are not connected to each other, although at least four of them involved instances of faulty witnesses.
"I just want to thank those men, acknowledge the sacrifice that they made, hope that they understand that this is their community's way of recognizing that not only were they innocent, but they were terribly, terribly wronged, and I apologize," said Treasurer Nancy Kopp, one of the board's three members.
The men, who range in age from 36 to 71, will be paid $78,916 for each year they were incarcerated. That amounts to the state's median household income.
Comptroller Peter Franchot, another board member, described the men as "victims of a broken criminal justice system." He said he hoped the board's decision brings "some solace and a sense of vindication."
Franchot said using the median household income to set the payments could serve as a guide in the future to avoid the delays that resulted as the board considered an appropriate amount to pay.
"I hope there are none, but to the extent there are, we don't have to go through a lengthy process reinventing the wheel," he said.
Maryland judges and prosecutors have found that petitioners Jerome Johnson, Lamar Johnson, Walter Lomax, Clarence Shipley and Hubert James Williams are innocent. Some petitions filed by attorneys have been pending for over a year.
Last month, nearly 50 Maryland lawmakers called on the board to compensate the five men. They noted that the board had previously exercised the responsibility of compensating exonerees, and that the board was authorized under the law to do so. The board awarded compensation to exonerees in an average of six months from their date of eligibility between the years 1984 and 2004 — the last time the board compensated a wrongly convicted person.
Gov. Larry Hogan, who is a board member, responded that the legislature has taken up the issue of how to best compensate the wrongly incarcerated, but lawmakers have failed to reach a consensus on how to do it. Legislation to require the board to pay compensation stalled this year.
When he responded to the letter last month, Hogan wrote it should be "abundantly clear" that the board is not the appropriate venue to handle such cases going forward.
Hogan said the board doesn't have the expertise, capacity or personnel to make determinations about the damages incurred. He also responded in a letter responding to lawmakers last month that the board isn't suited to determine potential needs for reintegration into society, including counseling, housing, health care and job training.
Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford stood in for Hogan at Wednesday's board meeting.
"We're bringing this matter to a just and rightful close," Rutherford said.