Last mission to repair the Hubble telescope Hubble space telescope discoveries have enriched our understanding of the cosmos. In this special report, you will see facts about the Hubble space telescope, discoveries it has made and what the last mission's goals are.
For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Freed by DNA, man waits for state to pay
House leaders put off help for Wilton Dedge, and others.
By ALISA ULFERTS and STEVE BOUSQUET
Published May 4, 2005
TALLAHASSEE - Wilton Dedge spent 22 years in state prison, waiting for DNA evidence to exonerate him. It did, last year.
Now, he'll likely have to wait for the Legislature to compensate him for wrongful imprisonment.
And so will the dozens of other Floridians who have filed a claim against lawmakers, seeking an amount greater than the $200,000 limit allowed by the state.
Although the Senate is prepared to pass a bill that would allow Dedge to negotiate with the state, or sue it for up to $5-million, Republican leaders in the House have declared the matter dead for this year.
The Senate isn't willing to give up yet, but with the major policy issues of Medicaid, growth management and tort reform still unresolved, Dedge's case could easily get lost in the shuffle.
"It's a complete about-face and it's very disconcerting," said Michelle Fontaine, assistant director of the Florida Innocence Initiative, which has served on Dedge's legal team.
Fontaine said legislative leaders have publicly promised their support to Dedge, which makes Tuesday's development all the more surprising.
"On the one hand, publicly, they're very supportive. But when we turn to them for help, everyone turns their backs," Fontaine said.
Neither House nor Senate leaders are interested this year in taking up the cause of others, in addition to Dedge, who are seeking compensation after claiming they were wronged by the state.
With just three days left in the 2005 legislative session, Dedge and other claim seekers are running out of time to change their minds.
Dedge, 43, has asked the Legislature for $5-million for losing more than half his years to an unjust prison sentence. The money would compensate him for lost income, in addition to the time and money his parents and lawyers spent to free him.
Dedge was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in 1982 after being convicted of sexual battery, aggravated battery and burglary. He was declared innocent in August of last year.
Since the legislative session began eight weeks ago, the House Republican leadership has resisted giving money to Dedge.
A House bill offers the Brevard County man a combination of money - the amount to be determined by lawmakers - and a package of benefits such as health care coverage and free tuition at state schools. But that proposal is stuck in a committee.
Rep. Bruce Kyle, R-Fort Myers, chairman of the House Justice Council, has kept House legislation bottled up in his committee while continuing to oppose the Senate plan to offer Dedge $5-million.
Kyle said his solution is to "slow down," study cases such as Dedge's and propose a policy for lawmakers to consider next year.
"I've got concerns whether or not that's actually an issue that the Legislature should be getting involved in," Kyle said. "We have a judicial system. They're usually the arbiters of what is just and what is unjust in a case, and I'm not too sure that this shouldn't be an issue that's resolved through legal action and a regular claims bill like every other claims bill."
By law, victims of state negligence can collect only as much as $200,000 in compensation, even when a jury concludes that justice requires more. Only the Legislature can authorize more.
About two dozen claims bills are filed each year. Few are successful. Those filing the claims bills are especially irked that they have gone through the legal process successfully, then need to start over in the Legislature. A House and Senate special master investigates the claims and hears testimony like a judge.
Dedge's lawyers have emphasized that his case is not like most other claims bills, which are the result of a trial verdict and a jury's damage award.
Asked to predict whether the issue was dead for this session, Kyle said: "I've seen stranger things, but we're not going to do anything this year."
Kyle's position has the support of House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City.
"If a council chair has other ideas or thoughts, I'm not going to bully him," Bense said.
Dedge is not the first wrongly imprisoned person who has had trouble getting compensation from lawmakers. It can take years for lobbying to yield results.
Wilbert Lee and Freddie Pitts were pardoned in 1975, after 12 years of unjust imprisonment for murder. The Legislature didn't act on their compensation until 1998.
At least 19 states have laws to compensate people who are falsely imprisoned, but Florida does not.
Sen. Dan Webster is trying to change that. A bill by the Winter Garden Republican would set up a system to help people who are sent to prison but later found innocent by "clear and convincing evidence."
The bill is modeled on a law that compensates property owners whose land is confiscated by government for public works projects. It's awaiting a final vote in the Senate.
"Eventually they are compensated for their property. It should be exactly the same thing for life and liberty," Webster said.
Webster said it's too early to declare the Dedge bill dead.
"Everybody wants a lot of stuff right now. To close the door on anything is premature. There are a lot of things with my name on it that the House wants and needs passed," Webster said.
And he's got Senate President Tom Lee's support. Lee called Webster's bill "masterful" and said he's puzzled by the House's inaction.
"I really don't know what they're thinking there," said Lee, R-Brandon.
Where Lee and Bense do agree is on regular claims bills.
Both dislike them because they say lawyers get too much money and success shouldn't depend on the clout of a lobbyist. Neither leader intends to let a claims bill get a hearing in his chamber.
None of the dozens of Floridians who are asking lawmakers for compensation are likely to go home with anything save their frustration.
"It's disgraceful the way they posture their compassion and dispense with it on a very limited political basis," said Sheldon Schlesinger, the Fort Lauderdale attorney for Minouche Noel, a South Florida teenager who was paralyzed as an infant after a botched surgery by state doctors.
Schlesinger noted that the House Claims Committee unanimously approved Minouche's claims bill - yet the full House did not vote on it. Schlesinger said he would bring Minouche's claims bill back before the Legislature next session.
Times staff writer Tamara Lush contributed to this report.