It's hard to put a price on ten years wrongfully spent in prison, but Texas won't even try.
Clarence Brandley, once the janitor at Conroe High School, spent a decade on Death Row after being wrongfully convicted of the 1980 rape and murder of a white 16-year-old student there. He was eventually freed in 1990, after the famous words of one judge: "In the thirty years that this court has presided over matters in the judicial system, no case has presented a more shocking scenario of the effects of racial prejudice, perjured testimony, witness intimidation (and) an investigation the outcome of which has been predetermined."
Now, Brandley is being denied compensation for his years spent behind bars. Turns out the court order that freed him lacks two words: "actual innocence." Though his innocence was enough to reverse a prosecution, it's technically not enough to grant him compensation, the office of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts said Monday in a letter to Brandley. "In addition," the letter read, "Section 103.003 requires a person seeking compensation to file an application with the comptroller not later than the third anniversary of the date the person received the pardon or was granted relief."
Brandley and his supporters held a press conference yesterday urging people to fight back.
No one there was surprised that Brandley's requests for compensation are being ignored. It's a classic case of racial prejudice, they said.
Veronica Young has been pushing to free Brandley since he was placed on Death Row in the '80s. She was at the first press conference in 1981, and she says she's not about to give up now. "The people will rally around him like they did when he was on Death Row," she told Hair Balls. "The will of justice rolls slowly, but truth will rise."
The stage was filled with leaders from the National Black United Front, Witness to Innocence, and the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement. Clarence Brandley and his brother, Rev. Ozell Brandley, were both present.
Rev. Brandley said that the Monday denial of his brother's request for compensation lit a fire within him. He called the Texas comptrollers "good ol' boys" and demanded justice.
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"This is not slavery," he said passionately. "This is 2011, and we don't have to take it no more." It's no accident, he said over and over again, that black people are among those most often wrongfully convicted.
Clarence Brandley took the stage to a standing ovation. In quiet contrast to his brother, Brandley thanked everyone for fighting on his behalf. "I'm prayerful and thankful," he said. "Eventually I think things are gonna work out; it's just a matter of time."
Brandley added that when he was released from prison, nobody told him how or when to file for compensation.
Kofi Taharka, chairman of the National Black United Front, summed up the audience's feelings of anger and frustration when he took the podium. "Don't get me wrong, I like to see the people get out of prison," he said. "But the whole system, from the bottom to the top, from the cradle to the grave, from the alpha to the omega, is rotten. And we know it. So we're not jumping for joy every time someone steps out because someone found some DNA evidence. What about those who don't have DNA evidence? You damn right we mad and angry, because we know what's going on."