ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — People who were wrongly incarcerated and proven innocent testified before lawmakers to improve Maryland’s existing compensation law.

The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, together with Baltimore County Delegate Delores Kelley, have created a bill that would compensate exonerees.

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Supporters of the bill said that, as it stands, exonerees have to wait years to be compensated, and the process to get that compensation has a lot of structural problems.

“This bill would create a much fairer process for those who have evidence of innocence and take it out of the hands of single individuals who can stop it,” Shawn Amburst, of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, said.

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Currently, an exoneree in Maryland is only eligible for compensation if he or she is pardoned by the Governor, or if a certificate is issued by the State’s Attorney.

Both qualifications are very hard to attain.

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The proposed bill is asking that the state pay exonerees just over $78,000 per year of incarceration, streamlines the process with help from the administrative law judges, creates eligibility standards that require proof of innocence and requires that the state be reimbursed if the exoneree receives any other settlements.

This compensation would help exonerees secure immediate medical and mental health treatment, find housing and buy basic necessities.

“It’s not like they can ever give me 25 years back, but it would make it easier for a person to continue with their life,” Eric Simmons Forest, who was wrongfully convicted, said.

Forrest and his brother, Kenneth McPherson, were released from prison in May 2019 after spending 25 years in prison for a shooting they did not commit.

Forest shared his story before the General Assembly in an effort to re-write the State’s current compensation law.

“They take you one day, you don’t come home for 25 years, and they push you out the door and you’re left to your own devices,” he said.

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These bills will be heard in both the House and Senate.

Rachel Menitoff