Governor Walker signs bill to compensate Wisconsin Innocence Project exoneree

A Wisconsin Innocence Project client whose murder conviction was overturned four years ago received compensation from the state this week, when Governor Scott Walker signed Assembly Bill 290 into law.

From left, Wisconsin Innocence Project Attorneys Lanny Glinberg
and Byron Lichstein, Robert Lee Stinson and a relative

The new law authorizes payment of $90,000 to Robert Lee Stinson for wrongful imprisonment. Stinson served 23 years of a life sentence for first-degree murder, but was exonerated in 2009 after Wisconsin Innocence Project attorneys used DNA evidence to prove his innocence.

Under current Wisconsin law, the wrongly convicted may claim up to $5,000 for each year of their incarceration, with a maximum award of $25,000. Current law also allows the State of Wisconsin Claims Board to recommend additional compensation through a supplemental bill. The claims board made such a recommendation for Stinson.

With the supplemental bill, now known as Act 206, Stinson will receive the added compensation on top of the $25,000 he previously received.

Professor Byron Lichstein '03—the Wisconsin Innocence Project attorney who led Stinson’s appeal—worked with legislators to advance Act 206, which received rare unanimous bipartisan support in both the Assembly and the Senate.

“Compensation for the wrongly convicted isn't a partisan issue,” he says. “Anyone who has an interest in the government operating fairly and admitting when it makes mistakes should support this.”

While Act 206 will help only Stinson, Lichstein sees the new law as a sign of progress. The legislature has recently been considering broader proposals to increase compensation for other wrongly convicted people.

This week the claims board awarded the full $25,000 compensation to another Wisconsin Innocence Project client, Joseph Frey. Frey was exonerated on DNA evidence last year after serving eight years in prison on a wrongful rape conviction.

As for Stinson, he's immensely thankful. On his behalf, Lichstein expressed gratitude to the legislators who moved the bill forward—primarily Senators Glenn Grothman and Lena Taylor and Representative Dale Kooyenga—and to Governor Walker for signing the bill.

“Since he was released nearly four years ago, Lee's been working really hard to put his life back together and move forward. But it's certainly been a struggle financially, and this money will help,” he says.

Submitted by Tammy Kempfert on April 22, 2014

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