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Texas Exoneree Suing To Receive Full Compensation

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DALLAS (AP) – One of Texas’ best-known wrongly convicted men sued the state comptroller Monday claiming he’s been denied full compensation for the time he spent in prison.

Johnnie Lindsey, 59, filed papers with the Texas Supreme Court contending that Comptroller Susan Combs has failed to pay him what he’s due under the Tim Cole Act, the 2009 state law that provides exonerees with $80,000 for each year of incarceration.

The Dallas man spent nearly 26 years in prison on an aggravated sexual assault charge before the conviction was thrown out in 2008 after DNA testing of a rape kit excluded him as a suspect. His case was later featured on the Discovery Channel series “Dallas DNA.”

According to Lindsey’s lawsuit, the comptroller has denied him eight years’ worth of payments on the grounds that he was serving a concurrent sentence for a guilty plea to attempted rape. However, Lindsey contends he should be paid for at least four of those years, or $320,000, because he would have been released halfway through the sentence for good behavior if not for the wrongful conviction.

“All I’m asking for is what the law says I should get,” Lindsey said in an interview. “I think the comptroller is being a little bit hard-nosed with me. Why, I don’t know.”

Lindsey, who already has been authorized to receive $1.4 million, said getting the additional money is important because he was diagnosed with colon cancer while in prison and currently has no health insurance.

“If it flares up again, I’m broke,” he said of his illness.

In a written statement, the comptroller said the law doesn’t allow for compensation when the prison time stems from a concurrent sentence. A recent decision by the Texas Supreme Court requires compensation when a concurrent sentence resulted from a parole revocation, but that doesn’t apply to Lindsey’s case, the statement said.

“If the court agrees with Mr. Lindsey’s interpretation of the statute, we will of course be able to immediately pay him the extra compensation he is seeking,” the statement said.

Lindsey is one of 22 people who have been exonerated through DNA testing in Dallas County since 2001. The county has been able to clear more people than any other in the nation because its crime lab keeps biological evidence for decades.

Lindsey’s lawsuit, a petition for a writ of mandamus, went directly to the state Supreme Court because it involves the Cole Act and the comptroller is the defendant.

The suit claims the comptroller has taken an “inconsistent course of behavior” in relation to the Cole Act and cites three other Texas DNA exonerees who received full compensation even with concurrent sentences similar to Lindsey’s. One of those men, Billy Smith, had to gain a favorable ruling from the Texas Supreme Court before he received his money.

The suit argues that the comptroller has denied making an additional payment to Lindsey despite the precedent set by the Smith decision, which was rendered March 4.

Lindsey’s attorney, Kris Moore, said the comptroller is “insulting” Lindsey by “nickel and diming” a man who spent nearly half his life wrongfully imprisoned.

“The state has found another way to violate Johnnie’s constitutional rights,” Moore said. “He has a constitutional guarantee to the good-time credit he earned as an inmate.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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