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Connecticut Man Suing for Wrongful Conviction Suffered in VA Prison

July 29, 2014

In scanning the news this morning, we came across an article about a Connecticut man who was wrongly convicted and imprisoned and who is now seeking restitution for the abuse he suffered. While the conviction and lawsuit involves the state of Connecticut, it was the location of the Virginia prison – where extensive physical and psychological abuse took place – that caught our eye. The case filed by Kenneth Ireland seeks between $5.5 and $8 million for the erroneous conviction and subsequent loss of 21 years of his life behind bars. It makes us wonder, however, about how many other inmates, wrongly convicted or otherwise, who have suffered similar fates in our local jails and prisons.

Ireland was a mere 18 years old when he was wrongly convicted and imprisoned for the 1986 rape and murder of a Connecticut woman. After years of fighting to prove his innocence, he finally succeeded in 2009 when DNA evidence exonerated him of the crimes. In media interviews, Ireland described the terrors he faced and the intolerable conditions he suffered at a Virginia prison. This included threats from other inmates, the loss of a finger, witnessing another inmate who was set ablaze, and being kept in solitary confinement for a full year.

His first appeal was filed in 1991, but it wasn’t until 2007 when the Connecticut branch of the Innocence Project intervened and, with the help of new DNA evidence, cleared his name and saw him freed from prison.

As part of his claim against the State of Connecticut, Ireland was expected to testify today before the Special Master appointed by the state’s Claims Commissioner to review Ireland’s case. Ireland’s testimony supplements a 100-page filing submitted by his attorney to the Claims Commissioner earlier this year.

It is believed that Ireland’s suit is the first to test Connecticut’s 2008 wrongful incarceration compensation law, a law that was based on the case of James Tillman. Tillman spent 18 years in prison for a rape he did not commit before his release in 2006. He was awarded $5 million in compensation from the state or his wrongful conviction and imprisonment.

Interestingly enough, Connecticut’s relatively new compensation law is one of the few of its kind that does not specify a set amount of compensation. This essentially means there is no limit to the amount that may be awarded. The state has gone on the record saying they will not fight Ireland’s efforts to seek compensation, though any amount over $20,000 would require legislative approval (as was the case the case with Tillman’s $5 million award).

Amid all of the reporting about the filing, Ireland’s attorney rightfully made the point that while compensation is deserved, it is equally crucial that the case serves to ensure future travesties of this kind do not occur. We would add that the case should also serve as motivation for authorities in Virginia to address the failures that occurred in the Commonwealth’s correctional system and that contributed to the physical and emotional trauma Ireland suffered.

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