Oklahoma House passes wrongfully convicted inmate bill

Tuesday, May 20th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Thomas Webb, who spent 14 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, has waited another seven years for the state of Oklahoma to hold itself accountable.

On Monday, the Legislature moved a step closer when the state House passed legislation that would make inmates who are convicted and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit eligible for $175,000 in compensation.

``I'm elated, not only for myself but for people who are going to come after me,'' said Webb, who with his wife, Gail, watched from the House gallery as lawmakers voted 92-7 for the legislation.

Webb, of Spencer, would be eligible under the measure for compensation that would pay him $12,500 for each of the 14 years he spent behind bars.

Webb was released from state prison in May 1996 following his conviction for a rape that DNA testing proved he did not commit. The DNA test did not exist at the time of his conviction.

``Compensation is not even the real issue,'' said Webb, who hugged the measure's author, Rep. Opio Toure, after the House vote. ``There's no value that you can put on 14 years of my life.''

Webb said the legislation is about accountability and the state's obligation to help citizens who are wrongfully convicted rebuild their lives after lengthy incarcerations.

``This is like an insurance policy for our legal system,'' he said.

The measure is nearly identical to bills passed by the House and Senate in 2001 and 2002 that were vetoed by former Gov. Frank Keating.

Last year, Keating said the legislation created a liability to the state without a showing that the state participated in intentional wrongdoing that resulted in the wrongful conviction.

Toure, D-Oklahoma City, has predicted the measure will be signed by Gov. Brad Henry.

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