Four wrongfully convicted men, four very different outcomes

This story was published on PBS NewsHour on November 9, 2014.

Alan Newton, Jeffrey Deskovic, Drew Whitley, and Johnny Pinchback were all exonerated in the past decade. Credit: NewsHour
Alan Newton, Jeffrey Deskovic, Drew Whitley, and Johnny Pinchback were all exonerated in the past decade. Credit: NewsHour

When a wrongfully convicted person gets released from prison, it is a major news event: Local television crews capture the first moments of freedom and the speeches on the steps of the state capital, audiences empathize as they grapple with gratitude and rage, and the exonerees take their first steps into an uncertain future.

Jeffrey Deskovic, who was in prison for 16 years after being wrongfully convicted for the rape and murder of his high school classmate, said it was the most surreal moment of his life: “It felt like a dream,” he said. “When I stepped up to the microphones at the press conference, I asked ‘Is this really happening?’”

But when the limelight fades, the wrongfully convicted face the reality of navigating the world they were yanked from, often with limited financial and social support.

According to the Innocence Project, it takes exonerees three years on average to receive any compensation after their release. More than a quarter get nothing. Among those who are paid, 81 percent get less than $50,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment.

NewsHour spoke to a number of exonerated men from different states about their experiences reintegrating post-release. All of them, regardless of compensation, say they would pay anything to have the years they lost in prison back…..read more at PBS NewsHour.