A man freed from death row was denied compensation from the state in a case that tests one of Texas's most lauded criminal justice reforms.
In 2005, Alfred Dewayne Brown was convicted of capital murder after he allegedly shot and killed Houston Police Officer Charles Clarke "execution style" during a botched robbery at a check-cashing store in southeast Houston two years earlier. Despite his attorneys' claim that he was "borderline mentally handicapped," Brown was sentenced to death.
In June, after a detective came forward with telephone records that could have helped Brown's defense, Brown was released from jail and had his conviction overturned. The Harris County District Attorney's Office dismissed the charges against Brown, finding that there was not enough evidence for a retrial.
Brown's attorneys asked the state for nearly $2 million in compensation, claiming his situation was covered under the Tim Cole Act, a state law passed in 2011 that increased the amount of money Texas could give to exonerees. But apparently that law comes with a caveat: In addition to being freed from death row, an exoneree must be proven "actually innocent" of the crimes he committed, which is a departure from the "presumed innocence" regularly afforded defendants throughout the criminal justice system's normal proceedings.
The Houston Chronicle reported yesterday that the state ruled Brown ineligible to receive compensation. He had spent more than 12 years in prison.
While the Houston Police Officers' Union has publicly said that it remains convinced of Brown's guilt, he had the support of Texas legislators who have been pushing criminal justice reform, including Senator Rodney Ellis, who sponsored the Tim Cole Act.
In a statement his spokesperson emailed to the Houston Press, Ellis said:
“If Texas is willing to spend millions of dollars to wrongfully convict and keep someone on death row, the least the state can do is invest to help them put their life back together once they’re released.
Since I changed the law in 2001, the state has paid more than $92 million in compensation to wrongfully convicted Texans. Why? Because men and women like Mr. Brown deserve some semblance of justice. I know there’s an appeals process already in place, and I hope that, upon reflection, the Comptroller will pay Mr. Brown what he’s owed. [...] I will never give up on trying to help Mr. Brown get his compensation – even if that means encouraging his lawyers to represent him on a pro bono basis to file a federal civil rights lawsuit. That would cost a lot and take a long time, and if he’s victorious, it would lead a governmental entity to be on the hook for a hell of a lot more than the compensation he’s currently owed."