Blog / Civil Rights

Expanded Legislation in Wrongful Conviction Leads to Exonerees’ Justice

November 10, 2020 / Chip Cooper

Imagine spending eleven years in prison for a heinous crime you didn’t commit—eleven years away from family, not completing your college degree or advancing your career, and putting your life on hold. Then imagine the state exonerates you but refuses to compensate you for wrongful conviction. 

This was the reality Mary Jenny Wilcox (now Reach) and Robert “Bobby” Aldridge faced when they were wrongfully convicted of child molestation in 1985. They were exonerated and released in 1996 but had to wait until 2020 (twenty-four years after their release) for the state to compensate them for wrongful imprisonment.

Jenny and Bobby were wrongfully charged and convicted of operating “sexual experimentation” on a group of children living in their apartment complex. Their case was appealed and successfully overturned after an investigation uncovered exculpatory information had been withheld from their defense counsel. It turned out that the children’s statements were coerced. When they were adults, the children recanted their testimonies. 

Wrongful Conviction Compensation Statute

The State of Ohio amended the Wrongful Conviction Compensation statute in March 2019, which expanded the number of exonerees eligible for compensation. Because the statute is retroactive, it allows individuals whose convictions were overturned many years ago to file another claim. 

The amendment also expanded avenues through which exonerees can prove they were wrongfully convicted such as “Brady violations”— instances in which police or prosecutors withhold exculpatory information from the defense. Because of this statute’s amendment, Jenny and Bobby were eligible to appeal for compensation decades later even though they had previously filed an unsuccessful wrongful conviction claim.

Jenny and Bobby came to Cooper Elliot for help in 2019. The very next year, we achieved a sizeable payout for their years of hardship.

Exoneration and Compensation Leads to Healing

During her wrongful imprisonment, Jenny was denied the opportunity to raise her two young children and was forced to delay earning her college degree. Although she will never get those eleven years back, she rebuilt the relationship with her children and is now a social worker thanks to the healing and financial support achieved through the settlement we sought from the state.

Bobby’s life and career were also put on hold, but as a father of four and grandfather of nine, he rests easier knowing justice prevailed. 

Wrongful convictions and wrongful imprisonment affect every aspect of an exoneree’s life—strained relationships with loved ones, prejudice, and stigma after rightful release, missed career and financial opportunities, and mental and emotional anguish. 

Cooper Elliott attorneys thoroughly investigate backgrounds and contexts of potential cases and advises exonerees about their rights. When we take on a wrongful conviction case, we care about the people involved and how the case affects all aspects of their lives.

Give us a call—we’re here to help.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

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