Lamonte McIntyre walked around the block in his neighborhood on Thursday and declared it “a great feeling.”
“Nobody told me I can’t go there,” he said.
A week after being released from custody after 23 years, his wrongful conviction overturned, McIntyre said in a telephone interview on Friday that he was “still excited. It’s a high I don’t want to come down from.”
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But like many wrongfully convicted, McIntyre walked out of prison after lengthy incarcerations finding a series of obstacles, small and large, to overcome.
He had obtained a cellphone, but had not yet activated the message machine – he did not know how. Of the phone, he said, “there are so many buttons and things it can do.”
Had McIntyre been like most prisoners, released on parole after serving his sentence, there would have been a variety of services to help him return to life on the outside. Tricia Bushnell, director of the Midwest Innocence Project, said a caseworker would have been assigned to assist in everything from ensuring adequate housing to getting needed identification.
But because McIntyre was released to correct an unjust conviction, none of those services were available. And while the Innocence Project provided a check to McIntyre, and supporters had been actively raising money, McIntyre was left with funds that he could not even deposit as he struggled through a bureaucratic maze.
Lindsay Runnels, clinical professor at the University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Law, spent much of last week trying to help McIntyre navigate his way to a state-issued identification card, which he needed to open a bank account to deposit the checks. To get that, he needed not only a birth certificate, but additional proof of identity that McIntyre, locked in state custody since he was 17, lacked. He had no bank statement, no utility bill, no driver’s license.
“They told me to go to the parole and probation office for help,” Runnels said. “I told them he wasn’t on parole or probation. That they should Google him.” While the State of Kansas had housed McIntyre for decades, Runnels said, they were not willing to recognize his identity on the outside.
After several conversations, Runnels persuaded legal counsel for the Department of Corrections to give McIntyre his prison identification badge – something that officials consider state property and do not normally release. Runnels and McIntyre went to the state capitol on Friday, and then headed back to Kansas City, Kansas where they met McIntyre’s brother, with whom McIntyre is staying and who could provide proof of his residence. “This is not something they train us to do,” Runnels said of the bureaucratic struggle.
By the end of the day Friday, officials had taken McIntyre’s photograph and he was approved for an official Kansas identification card. McIntyre said he had been trained as a barber while in prison; for the short term, he said, he intended to obtain a license and work as a barber.
But his longer-term troubles remain. Kansas is one of 18 states that has not passed a statute to ensure that those wrongly imprisoned should be compensated by the state for the years they spent behind bars. By contrast, Texas pays exonerees $80,000 per year for each year of confinement – meaning McIntyre, locked up for 23 years, could have been eligible for $1.84 million had his case been in that state.
A bill has been introduced the past two years in Kansas, but died. Floyd Bledsoe, who spent 16 years in prison for a murder his brother ultimately confessed to, testified before the Kansas legislature to the need for compensation.
The bill is expected to be introduced again in the upcoming term, and Bushnell remains hopeful. “We’ve been working on this the last few years,” she said. “I would like to believe this is going to be the time.”
See what different states offer in monetary and other compensation for exonerees. The darkest states provide more monetary compensation than the federal standard of $50,000 per year in prison. Source: Innocence Project, Illinois Court of Claims. Graphic by Jeanne Kuang/Injustice Watch.
Any compensation bill is separate from a possible lawsuit that McIntyre might bring against officials. McIntyre’s release came after testimony and affidavits pointed to substantial evidence of misconduct by a police detective, Roger Golubski, and by the trial prosecutor, Terra Morehead. Prosecutors have significant legal protections that make successful lawsuits difficult, and successful cases generally require proof of intentional misconduct that is not required in state compensation bills.
The Wyandotte County District Attorney, Mark Dupree, told reporters after he dropped the charges that he was not conceding misconduct by either Golubski or Morehead. Dupree said he decided to drop charges after he concluded that had the jury that convicted McIntyre heard the evidence amassed on his behalf, the jury would have had a reasonable doubt.
Dupree said he was not convinced McIntyre was innocent – only that there was not evidence to convict him. The evidence included suspect identifications by the two eyewitnesses (including a recantation by one), no physical evidence, and no evidence that McIntyre knew the victims or had a motive.
Meanwhile, even if a compensation bill became Kansas law, “compensation is not automatic,” and McIntyre would not necessarily qualify, noted Rebecca Brown, director of policy for the Innocence Project in New York.
There is the question of how far back the law would extend – would it only apply to future exonerees? And there is the question of what proof Kansas would require for any prisoner freed after a wrongful conviction to establish eligibility.
What former prisoners have to prove to establish their innocence, and who decides on the prisoners’ claims, varies from state to state. The National Registry of Exonerations, which scrutinizes cases and includes only “cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence,” included McIntyre’s case last week, making him the 2,109th exoneree to be added.