- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - More than a dozen people will be compensated by the state of Mississippi this year for being wrongfully convicted of crimes.

Some of the cases made headlines: Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, both of Noxubee County; Arthur Johnson of Sunflower County; and Cedric Willis of Hinds County.

Some are getting compensation for the first time. Others are receiving annual installments as provided by law.

Mississippi law provides $50,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment, up to a maximum of $500,000. The compensation must be sought within three years after a pardon or overturned conviction. It is retroactive. A stipulation for accepting the money is that the wrongly convicted person can’t sue the state.

Mississippi’s compensation program went into effect on July 1, 2009.

That same year, a new law took effect requiring the state Crime Lab or local law enforcement agencies to preserve biological or DNA evidence gathered in felony investigations. Many law enforcement agencies across the state gather DNA during investigations, but the samples weren’t always preserved.

The new laws were inspired, in part, by the 2008 exoneration of Kennedy Brewer, who had been convicted of capital murder in the rape and strangulation of a 3-year-old girl. DNA cleared Brewer in the attack years after he had been sent to death row.

Brewer and Levon Brooks, two men from Noxubee County, were convicted in separate cases in the early 1990s of the brutal killings of two toddlers.

Brewer spent 15 years in prison, part of it on death row, in the 1992 rape and murder of his former girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter. DNA tests proved his innocence in February 2008.

Brooks served 18 years for the rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl.

Johnson was convicted of a 1993 rape and sentenced to 55 years. He served 16 years.

Willis was convicted in 1997 in the death of Carl White Jr. and robbing White’s wife and daughter. He was sentenced to life plus 99 years, but was exonerated in 2006 after serving 12 years.

Each will receive $50,000 this year as provided in Senate Bill 2837 (https://bit.ly/1OiHMju), which a catch-all bill of deficit appropriations and additional spending authority to a variety of agencies and programs. Also in the bill are funds requested by the attorney general’s office to pay for outside legal assistance, expert witness fees, judgments and settlement agreements.

Others receiving compensation in the bill are:

- Sabrina Butler Porter, exonerated in the death of infant son in Lowndes County, $50,000

- Rodney Demetrius Sands, whose Jefferson Davis County conviction in the fatal shooting of two men was overturned, $39,998.

- Larry Ruffin, Bobby Ray Dixon and Phillip Bivens, exonerated in a rape and capital murder case in Forrest County, $50,000 each. Money for Ruffin and Bivens is going to their estates.

- John Randall Alexander, whose Panola County murder conviction was tossed after testimony against him was recanted, $50,000.

- Matthew Norwood, whose Hinds County carjacking conviction was overturned, $50,000.

- Jimmie Bass, whose Bolivar County aggravated assault and armed robbery convictions were thrown out, $50,000.

- Frank Sanders Tipton, whose Jackson County extortion conviction was overturned, $50,000.

- Derrick Luckett, whose Rankin County embezzlement conviction was overturned, $20,000.

Mississippi taxpayers will put up $1.35 million for legal expenses and fees in the ongoing lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s foster care system.

The foster care lawsuit known as Olivia Y. v. Barbour was filed in 2004 by a New York-based group, Children’s Rights, on behalf of minors that it said were being mistreated in Mississippi’s foster care system.

In March, lawyers who have been suing Mississippi for 10 years over conditions in its child welfare system asked a federal judge to take the system over. The judge has not ruled on the request.

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