TOPEKA, Kan. — People wrongfully convicted in Kansas will qualify to collect $65,000 for each year they were incarcerated under a bill the governor signed into law Tuesday.
At a signing ceremony at the Mount Zion Church of God in Christ in Kansas City, Gov. Jeff Colyer turned to Lamonte McIntyre and Floyd Bledsoe, two of the three Kansas men who were most recently released after being wrongfully convicted of killings.
"I want to say to Lamont McIntyre, to Floyd Bledsoe, to Richard Jones, we believe in you, we apologize to you ... we will make it right," Colyer said. Jones didn't attend.
Under the law, those who are wrongfully convicted and whose convictions are overturned will be eligible for $65,000 per year they spent behind bars. They also would qualify for nearly a year of free health insurance, financial assistance for higher education, and various social services, including counseling.
Previously, Kansas' wrongfully convicted had to fight for compensation, either by suing the state or by filing a claim with the Legislature that would be voted on as if it were a bill. The wrongfully convicted will still be able to sue the state, but any compensation they've already received under the new system would be deducted from what they were awarded in the lawsuit.
Michele Feldman, a legislative strategist with the Innocence Project, called Kansas' new compensation system "a gold standard."
"There's a lot of shortcomings in laws throughout the country and Kansas really learned what to avoid when they created this law," said Feldman, whose group worked with legislators in crafting the law.
Wrongful conviction laws in neighboring states are flawed, she said. Nebraska has a $500,000 cap on compensation and Missouri only awards compensation if a guilty verdict is overturned by DNA evidence, which does not happen in most cases.
McIntyre, who was released from prison in October after serving 23 years for a 1994 double homicide he didn't commit, said he was excited by the change. His lawyer, Cheryl Pilate, said the law is an important first step but that there's still "a long way to go to achieve real justice." She vowed to continue investigating the "troubling misconduct" that led to McIntyre's imprisonment.