Here’s how SC can avoid the injustice suffered by wrongfully convicted Kevin Strickland

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  • Kevin Strickland
    American man convicted of triple homicide

The story of Kevin Strickland has struck a chord with people around the globe.

Strickland was just 18 years old when he was arrested for a crime he did not commit. In 1979, he was then convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in Missouri.

Some 42 years and four months later Strickland, now 62 years old, is free after finally being exonerated in the case.

But under Missouri law Strickland would not receive a penny in monetary compensation for his decades behind bars.

He literally left the prison with nothing.

A GoFundMe account, set up by attorney Tricia Rojo Bushnell on Strickland’s behalf, has since raised more than $1 million for Strickland as he goes about the business of living the rest of his life.

Donations - some as small as $5 and as much as $8,000 - have come from people across the country and the world including Germany, Ireland and The Netherlands.

One donor wrote, ”I want Kevin to know that we care about the injustice that has claimed so many precious years of his life. I hope that the rest of his life will be filled with freedom, love, friends, joy, and plenty.”

Thanks to the kindness of strangers he may just have that kind of life.

But, under current South Carolina law, a person exonerated of a crime here would also receive no compensation from the state and, like Strickland, be left with nothing but lost time.

In 2018, a pre-filed bill in the South Carolina House of Representatives aimed to address the matter of compensation for the wrongfully convicted, but it was placed with the Judiciary Committee and never left.

This year, Rep. Cezar McKnight, D-Williamsburg, has pre-filed a bill that would create the “George Stinney Fund,” named after a 14-year-old Black child who was executed in 1944. In 2014, he was posthumously exonerated.

McKnight’s bill would compensate the families of the wrongfully executed with $10 million, but it does not address wrongful convictions and exonerations in the state.

Attorney Gene Connell, based in Surfside, Horry County, currently represents a man who was wrongfully convicted and held in prison for four years. He is now fighting for compensation for his client and hopes to have the case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It’s not popular,” Connell said of South Carolina’s failure to put a compensation law on the books. “No one wants to pay any money to someone who has been in prison, even if they are innocent.”

According to The Innocence Project, the federal government, the District of Columbia, and 37 states have compensation statutes of some form, but South Carolina is one of 13 states without compensation laws.

The Equal Justice Initiative notes that there are multiple reasons for wrongful convictions including false eyewitness testimony, faulty forensics and official misconduct by investigators and prosecutors.

Exonerations are tracked by the National Registry of Exonerations, which says the average person who is exonerated has lost 9 years of their life to false imprisonment.

Now is the time for South Carolina’s Legislature to revisit the question of compensation for the wrongfully convicted and pass meaningful legislation that compensates those who have been exonerated.

When the state makes a tragic mistake and literally robs someone of the life they might have lived, it must be held accountable and somehow make amends.

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