After 18 years behind bars, James Tillman, 44, awaits a decision tomorrow on whether Connecticut will erase his 1989 rape conviction, the Associated Press reports. Recent DNA tests proved that evidence on the victim’s clothing did not match Tillman’s genetic profile, contradicting sizable circumstantial evidence on which he was convicted in 1989. If he is exonerated as expected, state officials face another question: how to compensate someone wrongly labeled a rapist and imprisoned for much of his adult life.
The AP says it is a dilemma unfolding nationwide as states consider ways to help exonerated defendants. They seemingly do not fit into the category of “crime victims,” a group defined and compensated in Connecticut state law. Winning a court case could be difficult without proving misconduct by police or prosecutors, bad representation by defense attorneys, sloppy science, or intentional misrepresentation of the facts. Some states have laws that provide set dollar amounts for every day or year of incarceration. Others also add free college tuition, counseling, and other services. Connecticut has no set procedures. “I think every fair-minded person in the state would acknowledge that the state has some responsibility for compensation in this case,” said state Rep. Michael Lawlor, co-chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee.