Change sought in compensating those wrongly convicted in Md.

October 22, 2003|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

Several state lawmakers are looking for ways to revise Maryland's system for compensating the wrongly convicted, saying the current process is demeaning and could pose financial dangers.

Members of the House Judiciary Committee met yesterday to get more information about the issue from representatives of the governor's office, the state Board of Public Works and the Maryland Parole Commission.

Throughout the meeting, delegates said they were uncomfortable with the current set-up, in which exonerated individuals must obtain a pardon from the governor before they can receive compensation.

"It seems that if someone ... is actually not guilty, and spent 26 years of their lives in jail, they should not have to further intimidate themselves, further embarrass themselves by going to ask for a pardon," said Del. Carmen Amedori, a Carroll County Republican.

Some legislators also expressed concern that an increase in exonerations could bankrupt the Board of Public Works' $750,000 emergency fund, now used for initial compensation payments.

"There is potentially a substantial fiscal impact," said Sheila C. McDonald, the Board of Public Works' executive secretary.

Yesterday's hearing comes almost a year after Bernard Webster was freed from prison, exonerated by DNA evidence in a 1982 rape in Towson.

The question of compensation arose soon after Webster's conviction was overturned. Some wondered then whether Webster would be able to get the necessary pardon since, technically, he had not been convicted of any crime.

But the state attorney general soon released an opinion that said someone in Webster's position could receive a pardon. In January, Webster was awarded $900,000, to be paid over 10 years.

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