AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Supreme Court ordered the state Friday to pay about $2 million to an ex-inmate who spent 26 years in prison for murder before his conviction was overturned.
Billy Frederick Allen's attempts to get the money have been watched as a key case in developing standards for when ex-prisoners should be compensated. State Comptroller Susan Combs resisted paying Allen, arguing his conviction was overturned because of ineffective lawyers, not because he had proven his innocence.
But the state Supreme Court said the criminal courts showed Allen had a legitimate innocence claim and he should be paid.
Allen was convicted of two 1983 Dallas-area murders. He was freed in 2009 and sued the state for compensation for wrongful imprisonment.
Texas' compensation law is the most generous in the U.S., according to the national Innocence Project. Freed inmates who are declared innocent by a judge, prosecutors or a governor's pardon can collect $80,000 for every year of imprisonment, along with an annuity.
What makes Allen's case different is that he didn't have an innocence declaration. What he had instead was a Court of Criminal Appeals ruling that reversed his conviction based on ineffective counsel that also determined that the evidence against him was too weak to for a reasonable jury to convict him.
Although prosecutors dismissed the charges, they said they still considered him a suspect and have kept the case open.
DNA evidence has led to most of Texas' exonerations. But with DNA testing essentially standard in most cases now and the number of DNA-based exonerations expected to dwindle, more former inmates like Allen — whose case has no DNA evidence — are likely to account for more compensation cases.
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