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Bill proposes monetary relief for exonoree

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A man recently released from prison after DNA evidence proved his innocence may receive $100,000 if one Indiana representative's bill passes.

Rep. Vern Tincher, D-Terre Haute, has proposed House Bill 1162 to provide relief to David. L. Scott, who went to prison after being convicted of murdering 89-year-old W. Terre Haute resident Loretta Keith in 1984.

According to news reports, Scott was convicted largely in part because of a taped admission he made saying he killed Keith. Scott, a special needs student, was 17 years old when he was sent to prison for 80 years. The Indiana Supreme Court upheld his conviction, but reduced his sentence to 50 years.

DNA evidence eventually cleared Scott and he was released from prison in 2008.

Scott's story came to the attention of Tincher after he received an e-mail from his local television station asking legislators what they could do for Scott. Tincher asked for an interim study committee on compensation for wrongful incarceration as well as expungement of someone's criminal history record when they are released from prison based on DNA evidence.

"We had our day with the policy sentencing commission and had several people testify," Tincher said. "They chose to take no action. I had a bill drafted that provides compensation to David Scott on humanitarian purposes."

The bill specifies that the $100,000 in relief is not payment of damages but is provided only for "humanitarian consideration for the wrongs done to David L. Scott." Tincher said the amount, which would come from the state general fund, is minimal compensation, but will allow him to get on with his life.

Tincher said 21 states, plus Washington, D.C., and the federal government have statutory laws addressing compensation for people who have been wrongfully convicted and incarcerated, but he decided to tailor this bill just for Scott instead of one that would generally compensate people wrongfully convicted. He did say he may pursue a bill like that in the future.

"I believe we are going to have more individuals released from incarceration based on DNA evidence," Tincher said. "Most cases, even as recent as 10 to 15 years ago, didn't have all the capabilities of testing DNA as they do now."

HB 1162 has been assigned to the House Committee on Public Policy. The Scott case also prompted Tincher to author HB 1163, which deals with expungement of a criminal history record for someone who has been released from prison based on DNA evidence. That bill is before the House Committee on Courts and Criminal Codes.

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