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What Price for Wrongful Imprisonment?

Florida lawmakers are now struggling over how much, if anything, they owe him. The case took on new momentum this week.

Forty-three-year-old Wilton Dedge spent more than half his life in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. Freed last August after DNA proved he was innocent, lawyers have asked the state for $4 million.

Until this week, legislative leaders had refused to even consider the case. Now they have relented, but there are no guarantees. House Speaker Allen Bense is worried about setting a precedent.

"I think I owe it to him. I think I owe it to the taxpayers of Florida to review the case and review what happened," he says.

There are two questions troubling lawmakers. The first is how many people were sent to prison who were innocent, and secondly, what’s a year of an innocent person’s life worth?

State Sen. Dan Webster wants to set standards for everyone, not just Dedge, but Webster says he’s not convinced the state owes anything yet.

Sen. Dan Webster says, "I found the bill as a shell bill, which means it doesn’t say anything, and it gives me a chance to look at the issue and decide what I would like to do."

Dedge’s hometown Sen. Mike Haridopolos has researched other states. He’s suggesting $50,000 for every year someone has spent wrongfully behind bars.

Sen. Mike Haridopolos says, "$50,000 a year, I don’t know if that is a right number I’ve got to admit, but on any case, how much is the right compensation?"

No one knows how many other cases like Wilton Dedge’s there may be in Florida, and until lawmakers have some certainty, they are likely to be more cautious than generous.

An award winning documentary made about Dedge called "After Innocence" is scheduled to be shown to lawmakers later this month.


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