Boston Herald
Marvin Mitchell
Marvin Mitchell

 May 11, 2005

 Innocent cons: Justice blind, slow to pay up
 By Ann E. Donlan

 Behind bars for crimes they did not commit, nine men have sued the 
 commonwealth for up to $4.5 million in damages under a much-touted new 
 law, but they have yet to see a dime and accuse Attorney General Tom 
 Reilly of fighting them all the way to the bank. 
 "All they have to do is use the same kind of expediency it took to convict 
 me," said Lawyer Johnson, a 54-year-old black man who was imprisoned for 
 10 years, including two years on death row, for the murder of a white man. 
 "They need to make amends to people that were convicted unjustly. They're 
 making something very simple very complex." 
 Johnson's court complaint notes that he was sentenced to death in 1972, 
 but after the first-degree murder conviction was vacated, he was convicted 
 of second-degree murder in a "racially-charged second trial at the 
 beginning of the Boston busing crisis." He was finally cleared in October 
 To help Johnson and 21 other men imprisoned for crimes they did not 
 commit, the Legislature approved the wrongful-convictions bill late last 
 year. Gov. Mitt Romney signed it, with an emergency provision to get it on 
 the books by Dec. 30. Since then, legal tactics of the AG's office, which 
 defends the state against the claims, have appalled the innocent men and 
 their lawyers. 
 Corey Welford, a Reilly spokesman, defended the office's work, saying 
 state lawyers must gather criminal and court records. "By no means are we 
 delaying or saying that they are not entitled to the claims, but we do 
 have to do our jobs and make sure the plaintiffs meet the specific 
 requirements," Welford said. "We're moving as quickly as possible, but we 
 also have to do our job in a very impartial way." On April 21, Reilly's 
 office lost a motion seeking to yank a claim by Stephan Cowans from an 
 accelerated track in court to a slower pace, citing a "burden upon the 
 parties to resolve hastily such a complex matter," court records say. 
 Cowans' lawyer, Robert N. Feldman, fought the delay tactic, noting Cowans 
 served six years and was exonerated by DNA evidence. A judge agreed with 
 Feldman, saying that it would be "inappropriate" to remove the case from 
 its expedited track.

 The state is on the hook for up to $4.5 million so far if each person 
 collects the maximum amount of $500,000 in damages. Under the law, victims 
 also are eligible for half-price college tuition and other state services, 
 some of which Reilly's office has helped to arrange while claims are 

 But Ulysses Charles, 55, worries he has too many needs and not enough 
 years to fix his problems after nearly two decades in prison for 
 rape-related charges. "Why is it taking so long? What's the hold-up? . . . 
 Angry is an understatement. They took away the best years of my life." 

     Nine angry men 
     Ulysses Charles - wrongly convicted of rape and robbery, 1984. 
     Stephan Cowans - wrongly convicted of armed assault with intent to 
     kill, home invasion, armed robbery and assaulting a police officer, 1998. 
     Lawyer Johnson - wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death, 
     1972. Reconvicted and sentenced to life, 1974. 
     Dennis Maher - wrongly convicted of two rapes, 1984. 
     Neil Miller - wrongly convicted of burglary, robbery and rape, 1990. 
     Marvin Mitchell - wrongly convicted of child rape, 1990. 
     Eric Sarsfield - wrongly convicted of rape and assault, 1987 
     John Scullin - wrongly convicted of rape, 1996. 
     Eduardo Velazquez, a.k.a. Angel Hernandez - wrongly convicted of 
     rape and assault in 1998. 
     Source: Attorney General's Office