A man who spent 25 years in prison for a string of crimes he didn’t commit said that life didn’t get any less complicated after he was exonerated. Since the state paid him about $4 million in compensation, his ex-wife has asked the court for a share of it as an unprecedented form of property division.
The couple was married for 10 years; most of that time he was incarcerated. They had a son who was born just after he went to prison. But the man says his wife stopped visiting after about three years. They divorced in 1991 and she’s since remarried and had another child. “She didn’t do that time,” he said. “She didn’t visit me down in prison or take care of me.” But his ex-wife insists it was he who asked for the divorce after becoming bitter and pushing her away completely.
The ex-wife’s attorney says the man’s compensation should be viewed at least in part as lost wages, which his client would have been entitled to under a divorce settlement as community property. The exoneree’s lawyer says the ex-wife was already compensated for unpaid child support through the Tim Cole Act, which provides money for people wrongly imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit. And that act doesn’t classify compensation as lost wages, the attorney argued.
It’s a prime example of what’s called a case of first impression. There’s no case law to back up either side, which at least makes the case interesting, if somewhat troubling. The jury’s decision in this case could set a landmark precedent for how exonerees’ funds are handled, particularly in the realm of family law cases.
Source: Dallas Observer, “Exoneree’s Ex-Wife Takes Him to Court For a Piece of the Millions He Got From the State,” Brantley Hargrove, Dec. 12, 2011