Cases like these are why I do not support the death penalty. I cannot believe that this man was almost sentenced to death because of people taking advantage of his mental disability. That is sick.
Exonerated Death Row Inmate Awarded $2.25 Million
By ZINIE CHEN SAMPSON, AP
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia (May 5) - A federal jury on Friday awarded $2.25 million to a Virginia man who claimed a police investigator fabricated a rape and murder confession that sent him to death row.
Earl Washington Jr., who came within nine days of being executed, had sued the estate of the state police investigator, Curtis Reese Wilmore, who died in 1994. Jurors awarded Washington damages upon finding that Wilmore deliberately fabricated evidence that led to his conviction and death sentence.
"I feel great - and happy," a smiling Washington said after the verdict.
Washington spent nearly 18 years in prison. He was pardoned in 2000 by then-Gov. Jim Gilmore after sophisticated DNA testing, unavailable at the time of the crime, linked a convicted rapist to the murder.
William G. Broaddus, an attorney for the Wilmore estate, declined to comment after the verdict, other than to say he is considering an appeal.
Washington's attorneys claimed that Wilmore fed their client, who is mildly retarded, specific details that he used in his false confession to the slaying in 1982 of Rebecca Lynn Williams in Culpeper, Va.
For example, Washington said he left a bloodstained shirt in a dresser drawer in a back bedroom of the victim's home, his attorneys noted. Police never revealed the information publicly.
During the trial, a psychologist testified that investigators could easily manipulate Washington because of his mental deficit.
Washington's attorney, Peter Neufeld, said after the decision that the case boiled down to "two men in a room with the door closed. When they walk out, there's a confession with all kinds of nonpublished details."
Said Neufeld: "We learn years later that one of the men could not have possibly have known those details. Therefore, they had to come from the other fellow in this case, Special Agent Curtis Reese Wilmore."
Wilmore's lawyers acknowledged Washington's innocence but argued that Wilmore did not fabricate the confession.
Washington is now a maintenance worker in Virginia Beach.
Neufeld said Washington's attorneys will attempt get the state to pay the damages against Wilmore's estate.
"When he engaged in misconduct he did it as an agent of the commonwealth," Neufeld said, adding that the attorney general's office paid powerhouse law firm McGuireWoods to defend Wilmore's estate.
A telephone message The Associated Press left Friday with the attorney general's office was not immediately returned.
05/05/06 16:13 EDT