Politics & Government

Wrongfully convicted Kansans finally will get restitution. ‘A good start,’ one says

After being wrongly imprisoned for a double-homicide for 23 years, Lamonte McIntyre hugged his mother, Rosie McIntyre on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, after walking out of the Wyandotte County Courthouse.
After being wrongly imprisoned for a double-homicide for 23 years, Lamonte McIntyre hugged his mother, Rosie McIntyre on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, after walking out of the Wyandotte County Courthouse. eadler@kcstar.com

Lamonte McIntyre spent 23 years in prison for murders he didn't commit. When he was released in October, the state of Kansas gave him absolutely nothing in compensation.

Not a dollar. Not a dime. Not a penny.

That may soon change for McIntyre and others, after the Legislature on Thursday sent a bill to Gov. Jeff Colyer that would make those wrongly imprisoned eligible to receive $65,000 for each year they served.

McIntyre, of Kansas City, Kan., was falsely accused of a double murder in 1994, when he was 17. Tried at age 18, he was wrongly convicted and sent to prison until, at age 41, he was finally released to his joyous and tearful family.

Under the bill, McIntyre could expect to receive almost $1.5 million: a one-time payment of about $373,000 and then $80,000 a year for the next 14 years.

Reached this week, McIntyre was measured in his comments. He called the compensation "a good start."

"It will be helpful," he said. "It's great for something to be done for a person in that situation. After being gone for decades in prison, you need help with health care. You need stability. You need insurance. You need Social Security. You need something to set you up and not be so far behind in life . . .

"I look at my life. I'm starting my whole life at age 41."

Those wrongfully convicted of a felony would have to show in district court, or the state Supreme Court, that they met certain conditions to establish that they did not commit the felony crime.

In addition to the $65,000 for each year in prison, the state would pay $25,000 for each year spent on parole.

The first payment would be either $100,000 or 25 percent, whichever is larger, with the rest coming in $80,000 annual payments until the total is reached. A person bringing a claim can also designate beneficiaries to receive the payments.

Other benefits include state health care for roughly one year and tuition assistance for a post-secondary education in Kansas.

"I feel like this restitution is work that we can all be proud of," said Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg.

Those wrongfully convicted and released from custody before July 1 have until July 2020 to make a claim, according to the briefing lawmakers received. The legislation passed the Senate 40-0 and the House 119-0.

"The state today has taken a step in saying 'we recognize the horror, the waking nightmare' and that we will compensate these exonerees," said Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, Kan. "It's a proud day."

Earlier this year, McIntyre and other men who had been wrongfully imprisoned testified to lawmakers about their lives.

Richard Jones was freed from prison last June after serving nearly 17 years for a 1999 robbery in Roeland Park.

“This legislation would also provide much-needed financial assistance for me and other wrongfully convicted people to re-enter a world we never should have been taken from,” Jones testified.

In an interview this week, McIntyre was adamant that while the issue of compensation is important, a greater issue still must be addressed.

"It's one of those things where, for so long they're talking about numbers, trying to figure out a number that's suitable for someone who's lost so much of his life in prison.

"But they miss the mark, overlooking that someone is responsible for that (loss of time).

"Instead of having a debate, or a law, to prevent something like that from ever happening again, they talk about numbers. ... It is still putting a Band-Aid on something that needs stitches."

As glad as he is that Kansas is finally compensating for wrongful imprisonment, he also thinks some people have a skewed vision of that compensation.

"The misconception is that a bill like this passes, now you're an instant millionaire," McIntyre said. "It just means they pay you in a way you could have been making a living for the last 20-something years. That's how they try to make it right."

Since his release, McIntyre has been attending barber school, spending time with family, mentoring others and giving inspirational speeches. He plans to study business at Penn Valley Community College, which gave him a full-ride scholarship.

"I'm healing every day," he said. "I'm just trying to look forward to enjoying the rest of my life. I don't want to be looking backwards."

He asks others to consider whether there truly is any amount of money that would fully compensate an individual for unjustly losing years of freedom.

"I think everybody should always put themselves in a situation where they at least try to understand from a different perspective: How would I feel if someone gave me $1 million for 23 years of my life? How could you replace that? It's not about money or monetary gain.

"Time and life are the most valuable things I have. So for the most valuable thing I have, you give me $1 million? A billionaire in that position would give a billion dollars just to be free. Anybody would."