Thursday, February 08, 2007

What about all the other victims of Rogue Police and Kangaroo Courts?

What about the rest of the victims, don't we count?

CONNECTICUT NEWS
An Apology From A State
February 8, 2007
By COLIN POITRAS, Courant Staff Writer

When Gov. M. Jodi Rell offered James Calvin Tillman a $500,000 tax-free lump-sum payment as compensation for being wrongly convicted of rape, the first response among many listening to her budget address Wednesday was that it was a nice gesture.

That was immediately followed by a question: Would he take it?

Tillman, who was seated just a few feet away from the governor in the well of the House during her speech, acknowledged the offer with a smile and a gentle wave to lawmakers who gave him an extended standing ovation. He had been invited by Rell's office to attend the address along with his mother, Catherine Martin.

"I apologize on behalf of the state of Connecticut. I thank you for your grace and dignity in dealing with this injustice and I wish you well in the next chapters of your life," Rell said, in citing Tillman as an example of why the state needed to do more to reduce the backlog of DNA testing at the state forensic laboratory. It was through that testing that Tillman was exonerated last year after serving 18 years of a 45-year sentence for rape that he didn't commit.

After the speech, Tillman, 45, was circumspect about whether he would accept the governor's offer.

"I'm going to talk to my attorney about it and see what he says," Tillman said. He said he heard about the offer a few days ago, but has not discussed it in any detail with his attorney, public defender Gerard A. Smyth.

His mother, however, seemed to have already made up her mind.

"Oh, no, no, no, we're not accepting that!," Martin said, before quickly shifting gears and referring all questions to her son.

There are no statutes in Connecticut that outline compensation for people in Tillman's situation, although the legislature has adopted special acts granting monetary awards on a case-by-case basis. Tillman and his lawyer have repeatedly declined to discuss any plans for seeking compensation, which could include a lawsuit against the state.

Chris Cooper, the governor's spokesman, said Tillman can accept the $500,000 without waiving any claim of other damages. He said Rell's offer was made "without strings."

Tillman was exonerated last year after updated DNA tests showed he could not have been the man who left semen stains in the victim's underwear even though she had identified him as her attacker in the 1988 assault that occurred in Hartford.

Tillman was the first prisoner to be freed by lawyers working for the Connecticut Innocence Project, a program overseen by the public defender's office which seeks to use DNA technology to free people who have been wrongly convicted.

But those days seemed far away Wednesday as Tillman basked in the attention and took turns having his photo taken with various state dignitaries. He thanked Rell for personally acknowledging the wrong.

"She recognized I was wrongly convicted and she gave me an apology, a real good apology," Tillman said. "She's a very good governor, a very nice lady. She commended my mother for her strength and her courage."

Tillman said he has devoted his life to God and family since his release last July. Those things, he said, matter more than money.

"I'm just enjoying my life and enjoying going to my church," Tillman said. "I'm enjoying my family and spending time with my mother. It's not so much about the money. It's about God and it's about Jesus Christ."

Contact Colin Poitras at cpoitras@courant.com.

Courant Staff Writer Mark Pazniokas contributed to this story.

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