Texas high court denies compensation request

Updated at: 08/23/2013 3:05 PM
By JUAN CARLOS LLORCA

The Texas Supreme Court has denied the request for compensation payments to an inmate who was wrongfully convicted for murder but confessed to raping children while in prison.

Michael Blair was convicted in 1994 for the murder of a 7-year-old girl and sentenced to death. During his trial he staunchly maintained he was innocent, and in 2008, a state Court of Appeals cleared him of the charge based on DNA evidence.

While Blair was awaiting execution in 2003, he confessed to sexually abusing children and is currently serving four life sentences for those crimes.

Since 2009, Blair has requested more than $1 million in compensation from the Texas comptroller under the state’s Tim Cole Act, under which a person wrongfully convicted is entitled to compensation. Cole was wrongfully convicted of raping a fellow student in 1985 and died in prison. He was posthumously cleared of the crime.

However, the law says payments must stop if that person is convicted of a felony after the date they become eligible for compensation.

Blair wants compensation for the time he spent in prison between 1993 and 2004, when he was convicted of the child sexual abuse charges.

The court said Friday the act’s wording "is convicted" can be reasonably read to refer to the status of the inmate and not only to the moment the person was found guilty by a court.

The law denies compensation to a person "regardless of when the conviction was adjudicated, whether before or after he became eligible for compensation," the opinion said.

Blair’s attorney, Roy Greenwood, told the Associated Press that he’ll file a motion for a rehearing.

"This opinion makes so little sense, I can’t wrap my head around it," Greenwood said in a phone interview.

Jeff Blackburn, who helped write the Tim Cole Act and chief counsel of The Innocence Project of Texas, said it would have been "a freakish result" if Blair received compensation.

Blackburn concedes Greenwood technically has a good argument, but said, "I’m happy (the law) is not being used to give money to help people who don’t deserve it."

The intent of the law was to "help innocent people get enough money to make a new life," Blackburn said.

That view was shared by the state’s comptroller when denying Blair’s claim, since it is almost impossible that he will ever be released.

In a dissenting vote, Justice Debra H. Lehrmann says "is convicted" refers to the act of conviction, not the state of being convicted _ thus making Blair eligible for payments for the years he spent on death row for a murder he did not commit.

The killing for which Blair was wrongfully convicted prompted legislators to pass tough sexual-predator measures called "Ashley’s Laws."

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)