Many Who Are Exonerated After Wrongful Convictions Find Themselves Struggling to Survive

Jonathan Fleming, 51, spent 24 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. He received no immediate financial support when released. Experts says dozens of other wrongfully convicted people face the same reality. (Photo: Jennifer S. Altman for USA TODAY)
Jonathan Fleming, 51, spent 24 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. He received no immediate financial support when released. Experts says dozens of other wrongfully convicted people face the same reality.
(Photo: Jennifer S. Altman for USA TODAY)

Jonathan Fleming is finally getting some rest, even if he’s sleeping on a cousin’s couch in Brooklyn after spending 24 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

Fleming, 52, was wrongfully convicted of second-degree murder in New York. He walked free on April 8, 2014.

More than a dozen news cameras crowded into and around the Brooklyn Supreme Court building to capture the moment. Nine days later, Fleming, minus the fanfare, stood in line to collect food stamps. He hopes to find a job and is looking for a permanent place to live.

And, it could take years before he receives any lawsuit settlement payments from New York, even though it is one of 29 states with compensation laws.

“It’s very hard, because they just pushed me out,” Fleming says. “I had a few people who gave me a couple of dollars so I can have some spending money, but it doesn’t go that far.”

A stranger set up an Indiegogo fundraising campaign that has collected more than $45,000 for him. It’s open for donations until May 9.

Fleming will live on that money and a loan against the compensation he expects to get from the city and state of New York. His lawyers say they are aiming to get him at least $6.4 million after another New York City exoneree received that amount recently.

In the meantime, Fleming is living in the vulnerable period that dozens of others face. It takes an average of three to seven years for the wrongfully convicted to receive compensation, experts say.

A record-breaking 90 wrongfully imprisoned people were released from prison in 2013, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. This year, already 31 exonerees have been set free.

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Source: USA Today | Yamiche Alcindor

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