xml:space="preserve">
L-R (top) Lamar Johnson, Jerome Johnson,. L-R (bottom) Hubert James Williams Jr. and Clarence Shipley Jr., have all been exonerated of crimes and seek compensation from the state for a combined 81 years of wrongful incarceration.
L-R (top) Lamar Johnson, Jerome Johnson,. L-R (bottom) Hubert James Williams Jr. and Clarence Shipley Jr., have all been exonerated of crimes and seek compensation from the state for a combined 81 years of wrongful incarceration. (staff / Baltimore Sun)

Top Maryland officials pledged Wednesday to come up with a compensation plan by the end of the month for five men who were wrongly convicted and imprisoned for decades ― an action the state hasn’t taken in 15 years.

“The five individuals who were wrongfully convicted experienced unimaginable pain and indignities while incarcerated for crimes that they did not commit,” Gov. Larry Hogan told an audience gathered at the Board of Public Works meeting in Annapolis.

Advertisement

Five men who were wrongly incarcerated but released and declared innocent ― Jerome Johnson, Lamar Johnson, Walter Lomax, Clarence Shipley and Hubert James Williams ― have been pushing Hogan and the Board of Public Works to compensate them for their years lost to prison. The men spent a combined 120 years behind bars.

Hogan, a Republican, previously sought to ask administrative law judges to decide how much money the men should get for their years in prison. But the governor said Wednesday it recently became clear that process would take too long.

“I do not believe these five individuals should have to wait any longer," Hogan said.

Hogan said his staff, along with aides to fellow public works board members Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, is developing a financial compensation plan for the board’s next meeting in two weeks.

“We are certainly pleased the board seems to be moving in the right direction,” said attorney Neel Lalchandani of Brown, Goldstein & Levy, which represents two of the men. “Our clients certainly have waited long enough. They shouldn’t have to wait years and years for compensation, and certainly not a decade.”

Lawyers for the exonerated men have asked the board to award each man $100,000 per year spent behind bars, and Franchot, a Democrat, said the payments would be “in line” with what the men are seeking.

A spokeswoman for Franchot said after Wednesday’s meeting that the board would vote on the exact amount each man would be paid on Oct. 30. She said it would reflect “median household income" in Maryland. That’s $83,000, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census.

Philip T. Inglima, a lawyer for Lomax, said his client lives on a “very marginal income” and the payment would “ease some of the burdens he’s had since his confinement.”

Inglima said he was “optimistic” a deal would get done for Lomax, who has founded an organization to help parolees since his release.

“Walter is someone who has never defined himself by money,” Inglima added.

Franchot asked his colleagues on the board to “think of the birthdays, holidays, graduations, life milestones they missed.”

“The least we can do is compensate these five individuals,” he said.

Kopp, a Democrat, said she wished the panel would have acted already on compensating the men.

“It’s many years too late,” Kopp said. “I don’t think any of us could ever imagine that we could ever compensate somebody for spending years, decades in prison when they were innocent of a crime.”

Advertisement

State lawmakers have pressed the board’s members to move forward quickly on giving the men financial compensation. Fifty legislators signed a letter in August saying it is “critical for the State to recognize the harm inflicted upon each wrongfully convicted Marylander and to help the innocent men rebuild their lives.”

Each of the men has faced serious problems returning to society, the lawmakers said.

Williams has been homeless for large stretches of time since his release.

In November 2009, a judge concluded Williams, now 67, had nothing to do with a barroom robbery in Essex in 1997. He spent nearly 12 years in prison before a county detective took a second look at the crime and determined officers arrested the wrong man. On the day the judge set him free, Williams walked out of the courthouse with only the $4 an officer gave him for a bus ride home.

Three other men — Shipley, 47, Jerome Johnson, 51, and Lamar Johnson, 36 — were each convicted of murder and spent 27, 30 and 13 years in prison, respectively, before they were exonerated. Lomax served 38 years on a murder conviction before a judge released him in 2006. His conviction was vacated in 2014.

Hogan has faulted the General Assembly for not passing legislation that would give guidance on how much should be paid to exonerees.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Del. Kathleen Dumais of Montgomery County, would have required the state pay at least $50,000 for every year an individual was wrongfully incarcerated. It passed the House of Delegates 120-17 during the 2018 session, but failed in the Senate. Reintroduced in this year’s session, the bill did not advance.

The Board of Public Works, which has the authority to pay wrongfully imprisoned people, last made such a payment in 2004.

That year, under Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich, the board approved $1.4 million for Michael Austin, who spent nearly 27 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit.

In 2003, Bernard Webster, who served 20 years for a rape he did not commit, got $900,000 for his 20 years in prison, and, in 1994, Kirk Bloodsworth, who was wrongly convicted of murder, got $300,000 for the 10 years he served in prison.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement