by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The 2022 General Assembly appropriated $6.5 million to compensate seven individuals who had been wrongly incarcerated.

The men had been convicted of crimes which it was later determined they did not commit.  They were:

Eugene Stevens--$1.7 million. (HB 394)  Stevens was convicted of murder in 1986 in Lancaster County and sentenced to 99 years in prison. The only physical evidence against him was a hair. The FBI now states that the tests used to compare that hair with Stevens’ hair is scientifically unreliable. Also, several prosecution witnesses lied and the Commonwealth presented false testimony.  Stevens was paroled after serving 32 years in prison. Based on work by the University of Virginia Innocence Project and the published opinion of a federal Court of Appeals judge that, in light of the facts newly discovered in the case, no jury would have reasonably found Stevens guilty, Governor Northam granted him an absolute pardon in 2021, noting that it “reflects Mr. Stevens’ innocence”.  For a fuller discussion of this case on this blog, see here.

Joseph Carter–$1.5 million. (HB 383)  Carter was convicted in 1990 in Norfolk of murder, attempted murder, and robbery. He was sentenced to two life sentences plus 30 years. He was paroled in 2016 after serving 27 years in prison. There was no physical or forensic evidence tying Carter to the murder. Rather, he was convicted on the basis of the testimony obtained by Norfolk Detective Robert Ford. Later, one of the witnesses admitted that he had lied. (Ford was later convicted in federal court of extortion and has been linked to pressuring witnesses to give false testimony in other cases.) In 2021, Governor Northam granted Carter an absolute pardon, noting that it reflected his innocence.

Bobbie James Morman–$1.2 million. (HB 385)  Morman was convicted in 1993 in Norfolk of three counts of attempted malicious wounding and four counts of the use of a firearm. He was sentenced to 48 years in prison and served 22 years before being paroled. The crime for which he was convicted was one in which four men in a car drove by three men standing outside a residence and one of the passengers in the back seat of the car shot at them. No one was injured in the incident. Morman was convicted on the basis of the brief and conflicting testimony of three eyewitnesses  However, all four of the men who actually were in the car swore at the trial that Morman was not in the car and one of them testified at trial, and later publicly repeated, that he was the actual shooter. Nevertheless, neither the police nor prosecutor ever interviewed the man who confessed to the crime. Finally, Morman presented evidence that he was at a convenience store playing a video game at the time of the shooting. In support of Morman’s request for a pardon, the four men reiterated their 1993 testimony and signed sworn affidavits attesting to his innocence. In 2021, Governor Northam granted Morman an absolute pardon, noting it reflected his actual innocence.

Lamar Barnes–$1.1 million. (HB 1255) Barnes was convicted in 2003 in Portsmouth of murder and malicious wounding. He received a sentence of life plus 28 years. He served almost 20 years before getting an absolute pardon from Governor Northam in 2021. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. However, he was convicted largely on the basis of the testimony of three eyewitnesses, who later recanted and said they had been pressured by law enforcement and prosecutors. His trial also consisted of numerous constitutional violations including due process violations and suppression of exculpatory evidence. Carter’s pardon resulted from the work of the University of Virginia Innocence Project and the independent investigation by the Conviction Integrity Unit of the Office of the Attorney General.

Jervon Tillman–$408,205. (HB 1358) Tillman was convicted in 2009 in Henrico County of robbery, wearing a mask, and use of a firearm. He was sentenced to 36 years in prison, with 11 years suspended. He had served almost 12 years before being released early this year after being granted an absolute pardon by Governor Northam. It was determined that at least seven years and seven months of his time served had been for a crime he did not commit. The sole evidence against Tillman was an identification made by the victim, who only saw his attacker for a few seconds in the dark of night, while the perpetrator was wearing a mask. Moreover, the victim’s physical description of the attacker varied significantly from Tillman’s actual physical characteristics. Furthermore, the prosecution failed to turn over the entirety of the victim’s exculpatory, initial description of the perpetrator to defense counsel. In a post-conviction investigation, prosecutors from various jurisdictions raised concerns about the case, with one noting, “no office that reasonably attempts to observe best prosecution practices would take this case to trial.” Governor Northam’s pardon noted that it reflects Tillman’s innocence.

Eric Weakley–$343,232 (HB 1254) Weakley was convicted of second-degree murder in 2001 in Culpeper County for a 1996 murder. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison with 13 years and 4 months of the sentence suspended. He served about six years and eight months in prison. Weakley was 16 years old at the time of the offense. The case went unsolved for many years until law enforcement focused on Weakley, although there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. After following and harassing him for months and then “coaching” him by providing details and information about the crime and photos of the crime scene, law enforcement succeeded in getting him to admit to the crime and implicate others. Law enforcement ignored many inconsistencies between the details of Weakley’s “confession” and the details of the actual crime scene. Upon being released, Weakley recanted his confession, explaining that he had come to believe his false confession. He testified in the proceedings to exonerate one of the people he had implicated. A federal judge found his recantation to be reliable and corroborated. The University of Virginia Innocence Project worked with Weakley to present his case for clemency seeking an absolute pardon. In January 2022, Governor Northam granted Weakley an absolute pardon, noting that it reflected his innocence.

Paul Crum–$289,068. (HB 1263) Crum was convicted in 2015 in Dickenson County for obstruction of justice, specifically that portion of the Code of Virginia pertaining to intimidation of officers of the court and jurors. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. On the advice of his attorney, he had pleaded no contest to the charges. In a unanimous decision almost five years later, the Supreme Court of Virginia vacated the conviction, holding that Crum was denied the effective assistance of counsel because counsel had advised him to plead no contest when his conduct did not meet the elements of the offense. The Commonwealth agreed that his actions did not constitute a criminal offense. The result was that he spent five years in prison for an action that the state later said was not a crime.

How much is a year in the life of a person worth? After grappling with that question for several years in determining how much to compensate those wrongly incarcerated, the General Assembly in 2004 settled upon a formula enacted into law. The provisions were significantly amended in legislation enacted this year to provide that compensation shall be equal to $55,000, adjusted for inflation, for each year of wrongful incarceration. Also, the legislation authorizes the legislature to include in the compensation “the amount of any unreimbursed fine, fee, court cost, or restitution imposed and paid and reasonable attorney fees and costs incurred to receive an award pursuant to this section.” Finally, the legislation exempts the award from state income taxes. An existing provision of the law entitles a wrongly-incarcerated person to reimbursement of up to $10,000 in tuition costs for career and technical training in the community college system.

For persons under 60 years old, 25% of the compensation for wrongful incarceration is to be paid in a lump sum, with the remainder of the award invested by the State Treasurer in an annuity, to be paid out in monthly installments over ten years. Any person who receives compensation for wrongful incarceration and is subsequently convicted of a felony shall not be eligible for any unpaid amount of the award. Also, if any person who receives such an award is subsequently incarcerated due to revocation of parole or probation resulting from an act that constitutes a crime, he shall forfeit any payments from the award during the incarceration.

Each of the bills passed is an appropriation. Therefore, these awards are not affected by the current budget impasse. Each of the bills was agreed to unanimously by both houses of the General Assembly. The Governor has signed all the bills, with the exception of HB 385 (Morman), which he has returned to the legislature with a technical amendment to reduce the amount of the award by one dollar.

(Note: The summary of each case provided above is based on the facts set out in the accompanying legislation.)


$55,000 seems like a paltry amount for a lost year of one’s life. The amount is roughly equivalent to 90% of the 2020 per capita personal income in Virginia, which was the formula in the law prior to the 2022 changes. Of course, no amount of money can make up for many of the things that these men missed out on, such as watching their kids grow up and participating in their lives or being able to go where one wants or enjoying many other simple pleasures of life most of us take for granted. Nor can it make up for the hardships experienced in prison.

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11 responses to “Paying for Miscarriages of Justice”

  1. The criminal justice system is as fallible as any other human institution, and the stories of these seven men reminds us that the public needs to be forever vigilant. Every institution needs checks and balances to help ensure accountability. Virginians owe a debt of gratitude to the Innocence Project for bringing these miscarriages of justice to light.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    A good post that took some time and effort to put together and is equal to or better than what might appear in the print media. thank you.

    On the falsely convicted. Some of them sound pretty egregious. Witnesses lying? (DO they get charged?).

    Most of them have several things that have gone sideways – supposedly the checks and balances designed to protect the innocent.

    On the flip side, there are folks who literally get away with crimes including murder and I think prosecutors, some, might sometimes be motivated to cross the line but seldom are they brought to account when they do.

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    I stopped supporting the death penalty during the OJ Simpson trial. It seems obvious to me that money can buy a great legal team and a great legal team can get a jury to do whatever it wants.

    Did AG Herring investigate these cases and hold those who lied or withheld exculpatory evidence accountable for their actions?

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      will the current AG?

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        I don’t believe the AG has the authority to bring perjury charges against individuals who have testified falsely in a criminal trial. That is the responsibility of the local CA. I don’t know if any charges were brought against the persons involved in these cases.

        As for withholding exculpatory evidence, that was the work of the prosecutor and, perhaps, law enforcement. The only way to hold these folks accountable is to fire the cop and defeat the CA in an election. The accountability measure most commonly used is the overturning of the verdict.
        However, the burden of bringing that about rests on the convicted person and it is difficult to do. Even if one is successful, as Walter Smith points
        out below, there is the issue of immunity. There was a case argued in the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday dealing with whether an individual could sue the police for not informing him of his Miranda rights before questioning him. That
        decision could have ramifications regarding other rights such as those involved
        in these cases.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          Thanks. I guess I would argue that more than a few of these cases seem to involve misconduct that resulted in someone loses their liberty and being wrongly incarcerated.

          If the consequences for that conduct were categorized as a crime against the state, just like felonies are, and handled the same way, less of this kind of conduct would take place.

          When cops and prosecutors go over the line, the consequences are that justice is perverted and not served AND there are some obvious remedies to it.

          One other aspect is the financial ability of the victim.

          A good (and costly) legal team would likely challenge more effectively what appears to be misconduct.

          A poor person with minimal resources gets a minimal defense up against a much stronger team trying to convict.

          Our goal – ought to be not only to remedy wrong convictions but to address how they happen in the first place and make misconduct harder and more accountable.


          1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
            Dick Hall-Sizemore

            I agree with all that you say. These miscarriages did not result from “human fallibility” as Jim claims, but from cops and prosecutors not doing, for various reasons, what the law requires them to do.

  4. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    TY, DHS, for reminding all of the fallibility of criminal justice. When it fails, lives are destroyed.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    None of these sound like they really pass the reasonable doubt question to me.

    And if these guys had a top tier defense lawyer, probably would have fared better.

    If you are poor and you get arrested for a felony, you’re in a heap of trouble.

    If you are rich and get arrested for a felony, it often takes a serious effort on the part of the police and prosecutor to get the conviction and even then some go free.

    Walter’s comments as a lawyer himself are interesting IMHO.

  6. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    How many of these have prosecutorial abuse? Some had forced confessions. This is why an honest CA is extremely important as a check on the “justice” system. And so are the Judges. The judge in the Kyle Rittenhouse case was how judges are supposed to be. Prosecutorial discretion used to be a good thing when properly used, not as an excuse to let criminals go free like Chesa Boudin currently ruining LA.
    As to the money… I believe the $55k is tax free, so more equivalent to $80k or so, and this requires balancing because taxpayers have rights, too.
    Another issue is that the bad actor government employees have immunity. Sovereign immunity is generally a good thing…but what about these types of cases. There should be personal liability for bad faith actors in some way…

    1. walter smith Avatar
      walter smith

      Oops – Chesa Boudin is ruining SF. George Gaston is ruining LA.

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