- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

LONGVIEW, Wash. (AP) - Thomas Kennedy has had a rough go of it since being exonerated and released from prison in 2012, but a $500,000 settlement should get him back on his feet.

Under the state’s new Wrongful Conviction Compensation Act, the Longview man will be getting paid for the decade he spent behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.

“I’m looking forward to living life on the top half of the gas gauge,” the Longview man said Monday.

Kennedy was convicted in 2001 of raping his daughter, then 11, but she later admitted making it all up, prompting the court to toss his conviction.

He was released in March 2012 and now works odd jobs to scrape by and lives in a fifth-wheel motor home.

Two weeks ago his fortunes shifted when Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Michael Evans ordered the state pay Kennedy $519,973 for his 3,242 days in prison, the year he was registered as a sex offender and attorney’s fees.

Kennedy, 45, already has a plan for the money and for getting his life back on track.

“Pay my tithings, that’s an absolute first,” he said. “Then a quarter will go to my grandson’s future. I’ll start a business and get 20 acres or so of a nice piece of land with a dozen RV sites, some storage units and my home.”

However, it will be still be a few months before he can get it off the ground: The compensation money has to be approved by the Legislature, which convenes in January.

“It’s all baby steps, and the baby’s learning to walk faster,” Kennedy said during an interview at The Daily News.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the Wrongful Conviction Compensation Act into law early in 2013. Kennedy’s lawyer, who previously said he likely couldn’t get money by suing state, called Kennedy not long after the law passed to file a claim under the new statute.

While he’s thankful for the compensation and a shot at being a homeowner and a business owner, he said there’s one thing he can’t easily get back from his time at Stafford Creek Corrections Center near Aberdeen: “My sanity.”

He said his time in prison has left him with emotional baggage, as he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is averse to or even paranoid of crowds, which he is addressing with therapy. Due to his offense - though untrue - Kennedy was a frequent target of inmate attacks and said he had to fight for his life at times.

And when he was released, he didn’t get help assimilating with life outside of jail.

“They’re supposed to assist with re-entry,” he said. “But after nine years in they kicked me out onto the street with nothing to adjust my mind.”

His best help has come from relaxation therapy courses he took while in prison.

“It helps out in day-to-day life,” he said, adding that dealing with situations in prison is a lot different than dealing with them on the outside.

Kennedy spends free time with family - two daughters and a 7-year-old grandson - and friends, though he’s always scratching for some way to make money.

“Basically everything revolves around work,” he said.

Being an ex-convict has made finding a stable job difficult, though with the judge’s compensation order his records will be sealed and destroyed. This means he’s not an ex- anything, though he hasn’t gotten back to where he was before being locked up.

“I was doing all right when I was arrested, I had a pretty good life,” Kennedy said.

He has long forgiven his youngest daughter for lashing out over his alcohol and drug problems.

“No need to hold any grudge. She’s a beautiful soul and it bugged her enough to do something,” he said. “It would be great if the world had more people willing to be like that, to be accountable for their mistakes.”

If his daughter hadn’t come forward, he would still be in prison for another two years - or more, if he were civilly committed.

And though he occasionally thinks of “something stupid” to get him back into the structure of prison, he knows the road ahead has to be a new one.

“I’m excited for a new chapter to open in my life,” he said.


Information from: The Daily News, https://www.tdn.com

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