When Michael Blair was sent to death row for the infamous murder of a 7-year-old girl, he insisted he never killed anyone. More than a decade later, genetic testing showed he was telling the truth.
But during those long years behind bars, Blair did something else that ensured he would never leave prison: He confessed to raping two other children — a crime for which he’s serving multiple life sentences.
Blair hasn’t forgotten the murder case, and now he’s made an unlikely demand, asking the state for nearly $1 million as compensation for being wrongfully convicted. His request has gone all the way to the Texas Supreme Court and is forcing a re-examination of laws designed to offer exonerated inmates a new start.
Though he has almost no chance of leaving prison, his attorney, Roy Greenwood, said Blair could still use the money, particularly for medical fees charged by the prison system.
“He spent 10 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit,” Greenwood said. “Why he pled guilty to these cases, I have no clue.”
Like many of the nearly 30 states that compensate inmates, Texas denies compensation to anyone who is serving time for multiple crimes at once and has one conviction overturned. It also denies annual payments beyond the initial lump sum and other benefits to exonerated inmates who then commit another crime.
But Greenwood argued last month before the state Supreme Court that the law doesn’t specifically exclude someone like Blair, who was imprisoned on a wrongful conviction, then confessed to other crimes and had the first conviction thrown out.
The Texas Tribune reported, "Exoneree, Still in Prison, Demands Compensation," on October 17. It's written by Maurice Chammah.
A Texas man who was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent more than a decade on death row says he is entitled to compensation under the Texas Wrongful Imprisonment Act. But the state comptroller’s office, which oversees the payment of compensation, says that because he is not a free man — he is serving four life sentences for sexually assaulting four children — he does not qualify.
On Wednesday at the Supreme Court of Texas, lawyers for Michael Blair, who spent 14 years on death row, and attorneys with the comptroller's office argued over whether Blair is entitled to more than $1 million dollars. Blair was declared innocent of capital murder in 2008 and removed from death row to a general population prison. He is currently serving four life sentences on sexual assault charges, the molestation of four children to which he confessed only after going to prison for the false capital murder conviction.
Less than a year after Blair’s exoneration, the Texas Legislature passed the Tim Cole Act (HB 1736), officially the Texas Wrongful Imprisonment Act, which increased compensation for exonerees to $80,000 per year and added lifetime annuity payments and educational benefits. Since 1992, Texas has paid more than $42 million to compensate 74 innocent men and women who collectively spent more than 700 years behind bars. Blair would be entitled to more than $1 million.
Since the bill was passed, several exonerees have undertaken lengthy legal battles with the Comptroller’s Office, which oversees the payment of compensation. Last year, three exonerated men fought a decision that rendered them ineligible for full compensation because they had been on parole at the time of their wrongful imprisonment. The judges who reversed that decision noted in their ruling that the men would not have broken parole if they had not been wrongfully convicted.
But Blair’s case is different. In 2003, while in prison for murder, he wrote letters of apology to four children he had molested. Collin County officials investigated his claims and charged him with four counts of child molestation. He pleaded guilty and received four life sentences. The comptroller denied his application for compensation because Blair was “not a free man."
Blair said that the rulings in favor of defendants who were on parole should apply to him as well, since his crimes would not have been discovered had he not been wrongfully imprisoned. His attorney, Roy Greenwood, said the investigations that led to the child molestation convictions would not have been investigated if he had been in the free world, because it is unclear whether Blair would have written apology letters. “Had he not been on death row,” Greenwood told the Justices, “none of this would have happened.”
Earlier coverage of Michael Blair's case begins at the link.