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Wrongly Imprisoned For A Decade, He's Free And Wants Restitution

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Ever wonder how much almost 11 years of your life might be worth?

If you've been wrongfully thrown in prison for a crime you never committed, the number comes out to a little more than $850,000, or $80K a year.

At least that's how much Richard Sturgeon is seeking in restitution from the state of Texas for locking him up for 128 months on a bullshit aggravated assault charge.

Sturgeon was arrested on Christmas Day 1998 and was released in August.

"I am not angry," Sturgeon said earlier this afternoon at his lawyer's office. "This Christmas, it shows there's still hope for those who pursue it."

It was about 1 a.m. on December 25, 1998 when a man was brutally beaten and robbed of his wallet. Later that day, police arrested Sturgeon and two other men who were all in the same car. The cops found the beating victim's wallet in the vehicle.

Sturgeon was convicted in 1999 and sentenced to 50 years in prison, in part on the strength of a witness who identified Sturgeon, claiming the attacker was 6-feet-tall, says Sturgeon's lawyer, Randall Sorrels. Sturgeon is only 5'8". Neither of the other two men with Sturgeon that Christmas day were convicted.

Sturgeon kept on fighting his conviction, and was tried a second time in 2004. Sturgeon was again convicted despite the fact that one of the other men who was with Sturgeon that fateful night was prepared to testify that he and not Sturgeon was the attacker. Sorrels says that prosecutors intimidated and blackmailed the real criminal into not testifying by threatening him with criminal charges.

"Mr. Sturgeon knew he was innocent," says Sorrels, "and fought through to the federal court level."

In May, federal court judge Nancy Atlas freed Sturgeon, citing the confession and the poor identification of the attacker among the reasons why.

Now, Sturgeon is seeking the money owed to him under a state law designed to provide restitution to those who have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. If the state does not agree to pay Sturgeon, Sorrels says he will have to file a lawsuit to try and get it, incurring legal fees and "wasting taxpayer dollars." Here is the Houston Press' take on restitution.

Sturgeon says he is excited to spend Christmas at home with his family, which includes three children whom he has not seen much of in the past decade. In fact, Sturgeon is currently joining one son as a student at Lone Star Community College, where Sturgeon is studying business management. 

"I'm so happy he's home," says one of Sturgeon's sons. "It's going to be a good Christmas this year."

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