A falsely convicted black man has been given a $1 million settlement from the state of Massachusettes after he spent nearly four decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
According to NPR, the settlement with the Massachusetts Attorney General was finalized Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court after 55-year-old Fred Clay‘s conviction was thrown out just two years ago. The settlement is the highest amount allowed under the state’s new law.
“It’s a great day for justice and it is a great day for Mr. Clay …,” Jeffrey Harris, one of Clay’s attorneys who sued the state for compensation last summer, said in a statement. “The Commonwealth was willing to pay the full million dollars that is available under the law and it does appear that in this case, the law worked the way it was supposed to.”
Clay was just 16-years-old when he was arrested in 1979 and charged as an adult in the murder of a taxi driver in Roslindale, Mass. He was prosecuted on a first-degree murder charge and convicted based, in part, by testimony from a witness who only identified Clay as the suspect after being hypnotized by a detective, NPR reports. Clay wasn’t released from prison until 38 years later in August 2017.
“Well, it’s been a long time coming,” the then-53-year-old said at the time. “It’s been 38 years for something I didn’t do. I’m kind of overwhelmed and sort of nervous.”
However, following his release, Clay struggled to find stable housing and a good paying job due to his criminal record and large unemployment gap. He also wasn’t receiving any financial assistance from the state which made his newfound freedom a “struggle for basic survival.”
“Filling out job applications meant accounting for the 38-year gap in his employment history,” NPR’s Chris Burrell wrote in a four-part series for radio chronicling Clay’s life post-exoneration. “And while Clay’s conviction was overturned by a judge, an employer checking for a criminal background would still see his arrest for murder.”
It wasn’t until State Sen. Patricia Jehlen penned a bill that demanded quicker cash assistance, as well as help with housing and work development training to wrongfully convicted persons, Atlanta Black Star reports. Jehlen used Clay’s case as an example to get the state to reexamine assistance for those who’ve been falsely convicted and jailed.
“Immediately upon release, the person could receive $5,000 and immediate help with things like finding a job or finding a home, getting health insurance — all of those are things that would be a part of their transition out of prison,” Jehlen said.
Last year, the law was rewritten to increase the payment limit from $500,000 to $1 million. Clay’s attorneys filed a lawsuit for compensation in June 2018 which amounts to about $26,000 for each year he was falsely imprisoned.
“Would anyone take $26,000 to be in prison for a year?” Harris asked. “Probably not.”
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