It took two decades for Thomas Webb III to get Oklahoma authorities to pay for the nightmarish years he spent in prison for a rape he didn’t commit.
According to his lawyers, the state this week finally agreed to write him a check for $175,000 — the maximum amount Oklahoma law allows people who have been wrongfully convicted to collect.
That, under state law, is what is supposed to make up for his 13 years of incarceration ─ the lost wages and potential, the separation from family and friends, the time he’ll never get back ─ and the psychological trauma that thrust him into addiction and homelessness after he was released.
And he’s not allowed to ask for anything more.
But Webb says he will gladly sign the paperwork.
Simply getting the state to pay him, and in doing so acknowledge its mistakes, is enough to give him some comfort.
“For the first time, the state of Oklahoma has accepted the fact that I have been wronged,” Webb, 56, said Wednesday. “That gives me closure, a feeling that justice, in my frame of reference, has been done, that amends have been made.”
His journey, documented by NBC News last summer, has been epic.
Convicted in 1983 of raping a student at the University of Oklahoma, Webb was exonerated in 1996 by DNA evidence that pointed to someone else ─ and proved that the victim had mistakenly identified him. He came home to a wife who’d married him behind bars and spearheaded his appeal. He found a well-paid job in computers. But his untreated emotional wounds led him to drink heavily.
While they struggled, Webb and his wife, Gail, lobbied for changes to the state Tort Claims Act that would allow compensation for people who had been wrongly convicted and imprisoned. Lawmakers twice passed a measure, and twice the governor vetoed it. Finally, in 2003, under a new administration, it became law, but the state capped payments at $175,000.
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SOURCE: NBC News, Jon Schuppe