Clock ticking for bill to compensate Crotzer

Published April 11, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Alan Crotzer had half a lifetime of pain to draw on. But when it came time to testify Tuesday, he used just 15 seconds to make his case.

"I was wrongfully convicted in 1981 and spent 24 years, six months, 13 days and 4 hours wrongfully convicted for a crime I didn't commit. ... I thank you for hearing this bill and I ask for your support," Crotzer said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously in favor of the measure, which would award $50,000 for each year a person is wrongfully incarcerated.

Crotzer, who lives in St. Petersburg, approached the podium and shook each senator's hand, then left the room in tears.

"It's just overwhelming, the feelings," he said, dressed for the occasion in a white shirt and tie.

While the Senate has advanced the bill, legislation has not been touched in the House, and the session is more than half over.

That changed Tuesday.

Rep. Charles Dean, R-Inverness, said he would schedule a vote on the bill next week in the House Safety and Security Council.

Dean met with Crotzer briefly Tuesday and also said he got a call last week from someone in the Governor's Office about scheduling the bill.

"They said, 'Do you mind moving it up where we can hear it?' and I said 'no,' " Dean said.

Last week, things seemed less certain. Crotzer met with Rep. Ellyn Bodganoff, a ranking Republican, and she pledged to look into his cause but said it might take time to educate other House members on the merits.

But precedents exists. In late 2005, the Legislature paid another wrongfully convicted man, Wilton Dedge, $2-million for the 22 years he served on a rape charge.

Crotzer, 46, would get $1.25-million under the bill discussed Tuesday - roughly $137 for each day in prison. Another bill was crafted specifically for him and would award the same amount. But it seems all but dead in both chambers, reflecting an institutional aversion to so-called claims bills.

The movement Tuesday is no guarantee. The bill has several other stops in the Senate and House and would then need full approval in each chamber.

"We've got some momentum," said one of Crotzer's legal advocates, Jenny Greenberg, "but we could run out of time."