June 5, 2014

Many wrongfully convicted are simply on their own

6-5-2014 New York:

NEW YORK — Jonathan Fleming is finally getting some rest, even if he's sleeping on a cousin's couch in Brooklyn after spending 24 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.

Fleming, 52, was wrongfully convicted of second-degree murder in New York. He walked free on April 8, 2014.

More than a dozen news cameras crowded into and around the Brooklyn Supreme Court building to capture the moment. Nine days later, Fleming, minus the fanfare, stood in line to collect food stamps. He hopes to find a job and is looking for a permanent place to live.

And, it could take years before he receives any lawsuit settlement payments from New York, even though it is one of 29 states with compensation laws.

"It's very hard, because they just pushed me out," Fleming says. "I had a few people who gave me a couple of dollars so I can have some spending money, but it doesn't go that far."

A stranger set up an Indiegogo fundraising campaign that has collected more than $45,000 for him. It's open for donations until May 9.

Fleming will live on that money and a loan against the compensation he expects to get from the city and state of New York. His lawyers say they are aiming to get him at least $6.4 million after another New York City exoneree received that amount recently.

In the meantime, Fleming is living in the vulnerable period that dozens of others face. It takes an average of three to seven years for the wrongfully convicted to receive compensation, experts say.

A record-breaking 90 wrongfully imprisoned people were released from prison in 2013, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. This year, already 31 exonerees have been set free.

People who were guilty of crimes sometimes get help from parole officers who will monitor them after release and access to social services including counseling, temporary housing and job placement. Yet, the majority of exonerated people are freed without any kind of support system, experts say. Some are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder without insurance for mental health services. Some struggle to explain decades-long incarceration to wary employers.

Since 1989, 1,362 wrongfully imprisoned people nationwide have been released, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Most are men, and most of them had been convicted of murder and sexual assault. Around the country, states have been changing their laws to help such people.

In New York, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wants to extend compensation to people who falsely confessed but were later cleared. Schneiderman's proposed New York state bill, the Unjust Imprisonment Act, would also extend the amount of time someone has to file a claim from two years to three. ..Continued.. by Yamiche Alcindor

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