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Bill to pay the wrongly convicted moves forward

Published April 19, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - Lawmakers stood in line to hug the ex-convict from St. Petersburg. Men in suits extended their right hands. A Miami representative high-fived him.

Several apologized that their apologies were not enough.

So, they did what Alan Crotzer wanted most. They voted for a bill that would give money, education and a state-issued apology to the wrongfully convicted.

Crotzer, 46, was released from jail last year after DNA evidence exonerated him of 25-year-old rape charges. Though he has worked as a janitor and in a temporary parks job since his release, his 24 years, six months, 13 days and four hours in jail left him with few skills.

"I don't think we have power on earth or money enough in our coffers to adequately pay back in situations like this," said Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart.

House Bill 125 would give $50,000 a year to the wrongfully convicted for every year of imprisonment, on the condition the exonerated waives his or her right to filing a claims bill with the state. The legislation, with Senate companion SB 2464, also would provide tuition and a fee waiver for up to 120 hours of instruction at some schools.

"Is $50,000 enough?" asked Rep. Priscilla Taylor, D-Palm Beach, the bill's sponsor, as she stood before the House Safety and Security Council. "I don't know. I don't feel it is, personally. Because I've never lost my life to say I want to go to college to be a doctor or a lawyer. Alan did. He didn't have that opportunity because we took it away from him. So, I don't think that we can sit here and say that $50,000 is too much."

The bill is assigned to more committees before it goes before the full House.

Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday said he's hopeful the measure will cross his desk.

"I can't imagine how horrific it would be for a family and an individual to have served in prison for that long a period of time for something he never did," he said. "Lady Justice holds a scale that has two sides, and I think it's just as important for prosecutors to prosecute the guilty as it is to exonerate the innocent. I would sign that legislation, and I would encourage the Legislature to pass it."

[Last modified April 19, 2007, 02:02:46]

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