Menus Subscribe Search

Parsing Just Compensation for Wrongful Convictions

• November 14, 2012 • 3:31 PM

Sue Russell’s nine-piece look at wrongful convictions didn’t include two cases in the news this week, those of Lynn DeJac Peters or Michael Blair, but it could have.  Both are instances of mistakes by the prosecution that were remedied years later by the application of technology.

DeJac Peters’ case fits in the conventional wrongful conviction narrative arc. She spent 14 years in prison after a jury found her guilty of strangling her 13-year-old daughter, Crystallyn M. Girard, in 1993. Her freedom came following a new autopsy, which pointed to cocaine overdose and not strangulation, as the cause of death, plus DNA evidence that suggested Peters’ ex-boyfriend had been in Crystallyn’s bedroom. That former boyfriend is now in prison for the murder of another woman, whose body was found in the same position as Peters’ daughter. On top of that, at the time of the killing, investigators took a vaginal swab from the teen but apparently never tested it for evidence of sexual assault. It still hasn’t been tested but prosecutors suspect it will point back to the ex-boyfriend.

Earlier this week, DeJac Peters reached a $2.7 million settlement with the state of New York. I’m not sure many people would begrudge her the settlement or the sense of vindication that must come with it.

Blair’s case has similarities. He was arrested after he was seen in the vicinity of where the strangled  body of a 7-year-old, Ashley Estell, was found on a Texas roadside, also in 1993. Investigators gathering forensic evidence from his car found several strands of hair; one expert from the Southwest Institute of Forensic Sciences would later testify there was a “strong association” between those locks and the victim, while an FBI expert would argue that fibers from a stuffed animal in his car “most resembled” fibers found on Ashley’s body. Blair, who protested his innocence, was convicted and packed off to death row.

Almost a decade later, DNA tests done over six years ruled out Blair as the killer, and he was formally cleared in 2008. Per the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals:

“The post-conviction DNA results and the evidence discovered in the State’s new investigation have substantially eroded the State’s trial case against [applicant]. This new evidence in light of the remaining inculpatory evidence in the record, has established by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable juror would have convicted [applicant] in light of newly discovered evidence.”

Given this, Blair asked for roughly a million dollars in compensation, $80,000 a year he was behind bars on that wrongful conviction. So far he’s been denied at every step, and now he’s asking the Texas Supreme Court to help him out.

Given the similarities between DeJac Peters and Blair, can we argue against his even more modest requested settlement?

With apologies to Paul Harvey, now for the rest of his story. When Blair was apprehended after the killing, he already had a rap sheet as a sex offender. And while he was locked up for killing Ashley, Blair admitted to raping two other children, offenses for which he received life sentences. In short, Blair argues along  these lines: ‘Yes, I was a child rapist, but I’m no child killer. So pay me what’s due under the Tim Cole Act, and you can stop the meter running in 2004 when I was convicted of those rapes.”

Since Blair was an unattractive candidate for a second look, props to Texas for reviewing and then overturning his conviction. Do those same features mean he shouldn’t receive compensation—after all his rapes occurred before he was ever locked up. Or does legal required compensation accrue even to the reprehensible? Whether you’re an expert on Texas jurisprudence and the Cole act or not, what do you think?

Michael Todd
Most of Michael Todd's career has been spent in newspaper journalism, ranging from papers in the Marshall Islands to tiny California farming communities. Before joining the publishing arm of the Miller-McCune Center, he was managing editor of the national magazine Hispanic Business.

More From Michael Todd

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 1 • 1:00 PM

Television and Overeating: What We Watch Matters

New research finds fast-moving programming leads to mindless overeating.



September 1 • 6:00 AM

Why Someone Named Monty Iceman Sold Doogie Howser’s Estate

How unusual names, under certain circumstances, can lead to success.



August 29 • 4:00 PM

The Hidden Costs of Tobacco Debt

Even when taxpayers aren’t explicitly on the hook, tobacco bonds can cost states and local governments money. Here’s how.


August 29 • 2:00 PM

Why Don’t Men and Women Wear the Same Gender-Neutral Bathing Suits?

They used to in the 1920s.


August 29 • 11:48 AM

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.


August 29 • 10:00 AM

True Darwinism Is All About Chance

Though the rich sometimes forget, Darwin knew that nature frequently rolls the dice.


August 29 • 8:00 AM

Why Our Molecular Make-Up Can’t Explain Who We Are

Our genes only tell a portion of the story.


August 29 • 6:00 AM

Strange Situations: Attachment Theory and Sexual Assault on College Campuses

When college women leave home, does attachment behavior make them more vulnerable to campus rape?


August 29 • 4:00 AM

Forgive Your Philandering Partner—and Pay the Price

New research finds people who forgive an unfaithful romantic partner are considered weaker and less competent than those who ended the relationship.


August 28 • 4:00 PM

Some Natural-Looking Zoo Exhibits May Be Even Worse Than the Old Concrete Ones

They’re often designed for you, the paying visitor, and not the animals who have to inhabit them.


August 28 • 2:00 PM

What I Learned From Debating Science With Trolls

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but occasionally ignoring it can lead to rewards.


August 28 • 12:00 PM

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s Meme Money

The ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million over the past month, 50 times what it raised in the same period last year. How will that money be spent, and how can non-profit executives make a windfall last?


August 28 • 11:56 AM

Outlawing Water Conflict: California Legislators Confront Risky Groundwater Loophole

California, where ambitious agriculture sucks up 80 percent of the state’s developed water, is no stranger to water wrangles. Now one of the worst droughts in state history is pushing legislators to reckon with its unwieldy water laws, especially one major oversight: California has been the only Western state without groundwater regulation—but now that looks set to change.


August 28 • 11:38 AM

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.


August 28 • 10:00 AM

The Five Words You Never Want to Hear From Your Doctor

“Sometimes people just get pains.”


August 28 • 8:00 AM

Why I’m Not Sharing My Coke

Andy Warhol, algorithms, and a bunch of popular names printed on soda cans.


August 28 • 6:00 AM

Can Outdoor Art Revitalize Outdoor Advertising?

That art you’ve been seeing at bus stations and billboards—it’s serving a purpose beyond just promoting local museums.


August 28 • 4:00 AM

Linguistic Analysis Reveals Research Fraud

An examination of papers by the discredited Diederik Stapel finds linguistic differences between his legitimate and fraudulent studies.


August 28 • 2:00 AM

Poverty and Geography: The Myth of Racial Segregation

Migration, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality (not to mention class), can be a poverty-buster.


August 27 • 4:00 PM

The ‘Non-Lethal’ Flash-Bang Grenades Used in Ferguson Can Actually Be Quite Lethal

A journalist says he was singed by a flash-bang fired by St. Louis County police trying to disperse a crowd, raising questions about how to use these military-style devices safely and appropriately.


August 27 • 2:00 PM

Do Better Looking People Have Better Personalities Too?

An experiment on users of the dating site OKCupid found that members judge both looks and personality by looks alone.


August 27 • 12:00 PM

Love Can Make You Stronger

A new study links oxytocin, the hormone most commonly associated with social bonding, and the one that your body produces during an orgasm, with muscle regeneration.


August 27 • 11:05 AM

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

Being a Couch Potato: Not So Bad After All?

For those who feel guilty about watching TV, a new study provides redemption.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.