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Wrongfully convicted Kentuckians could get compensation under proposed bill

Mike Vonallmen, Edwin Chandler, Johnetta Carr, and Paul Hurt pose in the Capitol after a legislative committee passed a bill  that would provide compensation for the wrongfully convicted on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2024. All four had been convicted of and served prison time for a crime of which they were later exonerated.
Sylvia Goodman
/
LPM
Mike Vonallmen, Johnetta Carr and Edwin Chandler and Paul Hurt stood outside after a legislative committee passed a bill that would provide compensation for the wrongfully convicted. All three, alongside Paul Hurt, had been convicted of and served prison time for a crime of which they were later exonerated.

A Kentucky bill to compensate people who were incarcerated for crimes they did not commit unanimously passed out of the House Judiciary committee on Wednesday.

Mike Vonallmen spent 11 years in prison and 16 years on parole for a brutal crime that he did not commit. Johnetta Carr was incarcerated for four years in jails and prisons, and spent more than eight years on parole. Edwin Chandler served for nine years in prison, and eight more on parole.

In a committee meeting Wednesday, Vonallmen, Carr and Chandler spoke before legislators to tell their stories in support of a bill that would attempt to compensate them and other Kentuckians for wrongful convictions and years lost in prison.

“The justice system is not perfect… because it was made by humans, and as humans we all make mistakes,” Carr told lawmakers. “Today we have a chance to right the wrongs of history and start a new chapter in Kentucky to compensate people who have been wrongfully convicted.”

Republican Rep. Jason Nemes from Middletown is sponsoring House Bill 178. Under the proposal, those found to be wrongfully convicted could receive $65,000 for every year of imprisonment and even more if placed on death row.

It would also provide individuals $25,000 for every year spent on parole, under post incarceration supervision, or registered as a sex offender. Along with the monetary award, the bill would pay attorney fees up to $25,000 and waive tuition fees for up to 120 credit hours to any public postsecondary institution in Kentucky.

Nemes said Kentucky is behind the times in creating such a fund — dozens of other states already have similar funds on the books, according to the Innocence Project. He noted that a wrongful conviction means lost years starting a family, raising children or building savings for retirement. He sponsored similar legislation in 2022, but offered a lower amount of compensation to victims.

“These people have to prove under this bill actual innocence to get any recovery,” Nemes said. “What if you were convicted wrongfully and served 15 years?”

The committee unanimously approved the legislation with 17 committee members voting “yes.”

Rep. Lindsey Burke, a Democrat from Lexington, said she supported the bill and called for an additional amendment that would compile information about the people who receive money from the fund for a legislative report.

“This is an important bill. It's about time that we get around to taking care of people that we wrongfully convict,” Burke said.

As he left the room after the unanimous favorable vote, Vonallmen’s eyes were red — he said he was overwhelmed by the support from legislators.

“Never once has wrongful conviction been absent as a center point of my life,” Vonallmen said. “My case happened over 40 years ago, and still today, I am here on my central quest to seek some semblance of justice.”

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.