Finally free, but seeking compensation

Published April 5, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Though many know his story, no one recognized Alan Crotzer as he walked through the state Capitol Wednesday. That's the way he wants it to be.

"I'm trying to blend in, just be an average guy," he said of a free life after spending more than 24 years in prison, wrongfully convicted of rape.

But before he can fully reclaim his freedom, Crotzer, 46, said he needs to put himself at the forefront again.

The man who became a national symbol after being exonerated by DNA evidence left St. Petersburg Wednesday to push for bills that would compensate the wrongfully convicted.

"It's about doing the right thing," he said.

A bill introduced in the House and the Senate would pay Crotzer $1.25-million, or $50,000 for each year he spent in prison after an all-white jury convicted him in 1982 on double rape and robbery charge.

A separate bill would set up compensation for others who are wrongfully incarcerated.

A ranking House Republican, however, warned things may not go exactly as Crotzer hopes.

"It's something we kind of have to educate people on and build support for," said Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale.

Bogdanoff met with Crotzer for a half hour and pledged to work on the issue, but envisions relief more in the way of education and counseling.

"It's probably less about money," she said. "We can't compensate him for what he lost. No money in the world is enough."

Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, said the state should try.

"It's difficult to put a price tag on the loss of one's freedom, but we can do our best," he said. "Justice demands a response from the Legislature rather than turning a blind eye to him."

Still, he agreed with Bogdanoff's assessment that lawmakers are unlikely to do anything about the case this year. "If I have to, I'll sponsor it again next year," Aronberg said.

Crotzer and two of his attorneys left the Capitol without saying much about the meeting with Bogdanoff and Rep. Adam Hasner of Delray Beach.

"She was cordial," Crotzer said, echoing the words of one of his pro-bono lawyers.

Crotzer was released from prison last January and says he has found the adjustment slow. He began working as a janitor at St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg. He since moved on to a temporary job with the city of St. Petersburg's parks department.

Crotzer said he longs to return to the medical field, as a ultrasound technician. To do so he'll need an education. He also wants to study sociology to work with at-risk youth.

He also wants to provide for his new family. Crotzer was married in February and his wife, Quebella, has two small children.

"I want to better myself to give them a better life," he said.