In 2006 and 2007, each of us faced the worst day of our lives. We stood convicted of horrible crimes that we did not commit.
In fact, no crimes had occurred at all, yet juries found us guilty in three separate, unrelated trials.
The pain in our hearts was more than anyone should have to bear as judges sentenced us each to lengthy prison terms that we would serve, separated from our partners, children, parents and loved ones.
We missed the births of family members and the chance to grieve with family when loved ones passed. Our youngest children did not know us; our oldest children felt abandoned and betrayed. We lost opportunities to advance educations and careers. We missed everyday joys of summer picnics, band concerts, Little League games. Those long years in prison changed us and our families in ways we will never fully recover from.
While it is impossible to put a price tag on the loss of our freedom, the state of Minnesota is trying, and for that we are grateful. In 2014, Minnesota became the 30th state to pass a law that provides compensation to help innocent people like us recover from the years we lost as members of Minnesota’s workforce. It is also an acknowledgment from the state of the great harm caused by taking freedom from the innocent.
To get released from prison and ultimately compensated, we went through a long process — first to prove our innocence to the courts and then to prove the value of the time taken from us and our families. Through this process, we met a number of people representing the state of Minnesota who heard our stories, treated us with kindness and respect, and did all they could to make us whole again. It was through this process that we heard the very first apologies on behalf of the state.
The kind words of these apologetic legislators — who came from both sides of the aisle — were overwhelming.
Just weeks ago, the Minnesota Legislature approved the compensation that will help us rebuild our lives. We specifically want to thank the chief authors of the compensation bill — Sen. Ron Latz and Rep. John Lesch — for their strong support throughout this long and difficult journey.
We also want to thank the judges and attorneys who sat on the panels that determined the value of our loss and the representatives from the Minnesota Management and Budget office and the attorney general’s office who, while representing the state, always treated us thoughtfully and fairly.
Finally, we would like to thank the Innocence Project of Minnesota for its time and help navigating this effort. This organization helped to give us our lives back.
What happened to us could have happened to anyone. No one is immune from the power of a justice system that occasionally makes mistakes. The compensation will never give us back the time we lost, but we believe it is a sincere acknowledgment by the state of Minnesota of the wrong that was done to us.
Michael Hanson, Koua Fong Lee and Roger Olsen are Minnesota residents who were imprisoned for crimes that, it was later proven, they did not commit.