Eighteen years is a long time, especially if you spend them in jail for a crime you did not commit. Just ask Frank Sterling of Rochester, New York. Local news sources report that DNA evidence recently cleared Mr. Sterling of murder. He had spent 18 long, hard, bitter years in jail for killing an elderly neighbor as she out for a walk on an old train track trail in Rochester. Only problem is he didn’t. Someone else did. But Mr. Sterling finally walked away a free man this past Wednesday.
How did he get convicted? Under heavy interrogation, Sterling made a mistake that too many innocent men make — he confessed. Why? To end the interrogation. He told his interrogators what they wanted to hear so they would stop. Sounds silly to people who have never been under that kind of grueling pressure for hour upon hour. But it makes sense to the accused at the time. Lengthy, tough interrogations do something to the human psyche. Sometimes people crack. Mr. Sterling cracked. Even though Mr. Sterling almost immediately disavowed his “confession”, it turned out to be the nail in his coffin at trial.
And the REAL murderer? Turns out he got away with it, but then killed a four-year-old girl six years later, and that time he got caught. He eventually confessed to both killings.
Does this poor Mr. Sterling have a legal remedy in New York to get compensation for all that time he served in jail on a false conviction? Yes. It is called Court of Claims Act section 8-b. This little gem of legislation proves that New York State has a soul. It became law because our legislatures thought the State had a “moral obligation” to compensate innocent people convicted and imprisoned. Under this Statute, Mr. Sterling may file a claim against the State of New York to compensate him for his 17 years of hell. All he has to prove is that he was innocent, and that “he did not by his own conduct bring about the conviction”. We hope Mr. Sterling finds a competent New York wrongful conviction attorney to steer him through the process.
Our hats go off to the Innocent Project for undoing another wrongful conviction with DNA evidence. And our hearts, and best wishes, go out to Mr. Sterling, who is as deserving of compensation as anyone can be.