WICHITA, Kan. — Kansas is fighting the compensation claim of a man who spent 23 years in prison for a double homicide before a judge vacated his convictions, which were secured despite a complete lack of physical evidence and motive tying him to the crimes.
Lamonte McIntyre's case was one of three that helped prompt the Legislature last year to allow the wrongfully convicted to seek compensation. The law provides for $65,000 for each year a person spent behind bars, along with health insurance benefits, financial assistance for higher education and various social services.
When signing it into law, then-Gov. Jeff Colyer publicly apologized to McIntyre and the other men saying "we will make it right."
The state attorney general's office supported the compensation claims of the other two men, Richard Jones and Floyd Bledsoe, allowing the court to quickly grant them money and officially declare them innocent.
But it issued a statement Wednesday saying it couldn't do so for McIntyre because it found "the record of prior judicial proceedings" in his case to be "insufficient." Furthermore, it recommended in a legal filing last month that the court rule against McIntyre's claim and require McIntyre to pay any costs.
McIntyre's attorney, Cheryl Pilate, blasted the attorney general's office's position, saying there is nothing in the compensation law that would prevent the office from independently examining the facts of a claimant's case and to reach an agreement with a claimant.
Although the office's position is disappointing, it doesn't mean McIntyre has lost, she said.
"What it means is we have a year or more of litigation ahead of us and that the purpose of the act — which was to provide swift relief and assistance to unjustly convicted people who were just released from prison — is defeated," Pilate told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "The whole purpose of the statute is to avoid this kind of situation, to avoid something that is akin to a civil lawsuit in terms of its complexity and the length of time it takes to resolve."
McIntyre was 17 in 1994 when he was arrested in Kansas City for the killings of 21-year-old Doniel Quinn and 34-year-old Donald Ewing, who were shot in broad daylight.
McIntyre was sentenced to two life sentences in their deaths, but he was freed in 2017 after the district attorney asked the court to vacate his convictions and to drop all charges, calling his case an example of "manifest injustice." Prosecutors presented no physical evidence tying McIntyre to the killings and their case largely hinged on testimony that was allegedly coerced.
As far as the other two men whose cases were cited as examples of why the compensation law was necessary, Kansas agreed to pay $1.1 million to Jones, who spent 17 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of a 2000 robbery that he says was committed by someone who looks just like him.
The state also agreed to pay $1.03 million to Bledsoe, who spent nearly 16 years behind bars for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl — a crime that his brother confessed to in a suicide note.
The attorney general's office has also challenged the claims of two other former detainees. The district court ruled in July against the claim brought by Michael Mata, who as a juvenile in 2011 was incarcerated for less than a year before his conviction for aggravated indecent liberties with a child was overturned on appeal.
The attorney general argued that Mata's relatively short time at a juvenile correctional facility didn't meet the requirement for damages under the law. Mata has filed a notice of appeal, the attorney general's office said.
Still pending in district court is a petition filed by Bobby Harper, who spent nearly two years in prison before his 1987 burglary conviction was reversed by the Kansas Supreme Court. The attorney general asked a court to reject Harper's claim because it says Harper cannot prove he's "actually innocent," as the compensation law requires.