Unforgiving law creates new injustice

How much is 27 years behind bars worth -- if you never should've been there in the first place?

Bill Dillon's story captivated the state last year.

After 27 years in prison, the Brevard County resident was freed -- the result of belated tests that proved his DNA wasn't actually on the bloody T-shirt used in his murder conviction. An alleged expert dog handler who had tied him to the case was also later discredited and disgraced.

Dillon had entered the criminal system as a 22-year-old kid.

He had missed the years when many of us marry, have kids and take summer vacations.

But finally, at age 49, Dillon was free.

It only made sense that he would be compensated for his lost liberty. And last we heard, Dillon was slated to receive $1.35 million -- the standard $50,000 a year Florida pays to the wrongfully convicted.

Only he didn't.

In the time that passed since his case dropped out of the headlines, Bill Dillon hasn't gotten a thing from the state that wrongly locked him up.

And unless something changes, he won't.

The reason: Back when he was 19, he pleaded guilty to drunken driving and possession of a controlled substance -- triggering an exemption to the state's Wrongful Incarceration Act.

At the time, the conviction netted him probation and $150 fine. But now it's costing him more than $1 million.

Dillon has tried to remain positive about his life.

"I thank the Lord every morning when I wake up," he said last week during a break from his job at a car-parts store in Melbourne. "It doesn't matter if there's a penny in my pocket. I am grateful for my life."

Still, when pressed, Dillon acknowledged he was irritated to learn he wouldn't automatically get the money the state gives others.

"I just don't see why a DUI when I was 19 should have any effect on how they took 27 and a half years of my life," he said. "You can imagine what happened to me in those prisons.

"I don't want to get paid for the time. I want to get paid for the torment."

Dillon's problem is a provision that state legislators attached to the Wrongful Incarceration Act -- something they called the "clean hands" provision.

Basically, the provision says people who are wrongfully convicted are automatically entitled to $50,000 for every year they spend behind bars -- unless they have a prior felony. Dillon's DUI from 30 years ago was that felony.

When legislators passed the law, it was the only one of its kind in the country. And there's a reason for that: Because it lacks sense.

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