TOPEKA — Floyd Bledsoe, Lamonte McIntyre and Richard Jones are bound together as survivors of a dystopian nightmare.
They all spent more than 15 years incarcerated in Kansas prisons for crimes they didn’t commit. And, in what constituted a judicial miracle, all three were exonerated after serving a combined 55 years behind bars. These 41-year-old men stood as one Wednesday in the Capitol to embrace legislation close to the heart.
Bledsoe, McIntyre and Jones pleaded with the Senate Judiciary Committee to endorse a bill creating a system in Kansas for compensating the wrongly convicted in state courts.
“The state of Kansas took away 23 years of my life and has given me nothing to rebuild,” said McIntyre, who was convicted of a double homicide in Kansas City, Kan. He was released in October. “The state of Kansas can’t give me back the 23 years it took from me. But it can pass a compensation law so I can start my path to a successful future.”
Under Senate Bill 336, the state would pay exonerees $80,000 for each year of imprisonment minus civil judgments resulting from lawsuits. The bill would require conviction and arrest records related to these cases to be expunged and purged.
The legislation would place a two-year statute of limitations on claims after dismissal of criminal charges or a finding of not guilty on retrial. For claimants convicted, imprisoned and released from custody before July 1, 2018, claims for compensation would have to be initiated before July 1, 2020.
Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, and Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, urged their colleagues on the committee to support a compensation statute.
“This is an issue our state needs to address,” Baumgardner said. “It is imperative we come up with a form of restitution.”
Thirty-two states, the District of Columbia and the federal government have laws providing financial compensation to exonerees.
Bledsoe, who was convicted in Jefferson County in the 1999 murder of a relative, said he endured 16 years in prison for a homicide committed by his brother, Tom. In 2015, Tom Bledsoe wrote a confession and committed suicide in the wake of DNA testing brought to the surface by the Wilson Project for Innocence at the University of Kansas law school and the Midwest Innocence Project.
“The suffering is hard to describe,” Bledsoe said. “Every day in prison was full of chaos and violence. One time, five inmates beat me so badly that I had a concussion and my teeth went through my lip.”
He took vocational classes and worked in building maintenance at the prison. He joined a church and volunteered at a prison hospice. On the outside, he’s working as a project manager at a building maintenance company.
Bledsoe would have received more from the state had he actually been guilty of murder. He would have been given $100 in gate money and would have been eligible for employment, money management and mentoring programs. If on parole, employers would have been incentivized to hire him with tax credits.
“My past was full of pain and loss, but I’m placing my faith in the future,” Bledsoe said.
Jones was convicted for aggravated robbery of a Johnson County retail store in 1999.
“I broke down and cried when I heard the guilty verdict,” he said. “It was one of the darkest days of my life. There are no words to describe what it’s like to be behind bars for a crime you know you didn’t commit. It’s a struggle to physically survive in such a violent place. In fact, I got stabbed twice during my last year in prison.”
In June, his conviction was vacated and the prosecutor dismissed the charge. He was free, but left to rely upon generosity of strangers. It’s difficult to find a job without a work history, he said.