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Michigan Will Pay $1.5 Million to Longest Serving Exonerated Prisoner

by Bill Barton

Richard Phillips, a Michigan man who was wrongfully incarcerated for 46 years before being exonerated in spring 2018, will receive a settlement of $1.5 million from the state, more than a year after he was released without even as much as a bus ticket. Phillips is the longest serving exoneree in U.S. history.

Phillips, 73, had long maintained that he was innocent of a fatal shooting in the Detroit area in 1971.

“The Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan Law School learned that a co-defendant in 2010 told the parole board that Phillips had absolutely no role,” according to USA Today.

Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement targeting other exonerees as well that, “We have an obligation to provide compassionate compensation to these men for the harm they suffered.”

The payment still needs approval by state legislators.

“Someone who is exonerated based on new evidence can qualify for $50,000 for every year spent in prison. Phillips would appear to qualify for more than $2 million.… But he’s being paid only for 30 years because he was serving a separate armed robbery conviction at the same time. Phillips and his legal team said he was wrongfully convicted for that crime too, but Oakland County prosecutors haven’t cleared him,” USA Today reports.

Phillips became quite an accomplished painter while in prison, and his paintings now sell for thousands of dollars. “It was something to do, occupy my mind,” he said. “I could get off into one of my paintings and just be in there for hours.

He sold his prison paintings to help raise money for his own defense while waiting to find out if he would be eligible under a Michigan law that compensates the wrongfully convicted.

“The attorney general’s office made a decision to pay him every penny he’s currently owed. I am very happy with how things have turned out,” said Phillips’ attorney, Gabi Silver.

As Phillips said in a CBS News story regarding his case, “I’m gonna be alright regardless, whether they compensate me or not.” 

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Sources: usatoday.com, cbsnews.com

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