We're ahead of the curve here in Texas when it comes to our treatment of the wrongfully convicted. These days, instead of loosing them into a world they barely recognize with empty pockets, we hand them well-deserved golden parachutes worth $160,000 for each year they spent in prison for crimes they didn't commit. We imagine them as newly minted millionaires riding off into the sunset and living out their lives in material comfort, if not true peace.
Then we heard Wiley Fountain -- an exoneree who served 16 years in prison -- was living behind a liquor store. Things are better for him now, I hear. But he isn't the only exoneree struggling. Take Entre Nax Karage, for example.
Karage, a Cambodian emigree whose father is presumed murdered by the Khmer Rouge, isn't doing so well some seven years after he did a seven-year bid for beating his girlfriend to death. After Karage was officially exonerated, he lived a few lean years until he got his payout in 2007, but it paled next to the multimillion-dollar sums you hear about today. But that was the least of his problems.
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Karage got some bad advice from an attorney and filed for his compensation months before the the amount was raised from $25,000 to $50,000 for each year served. By the time he paid the various lawyers he'd accumulated over years of appeals, there wasn't much left over to rebuild a life.
Sure, when the Tim Cole Act was signed into law in 2009, he started receiving an annuity, but seven years at $80,000 per doesn't add up to much, particularly when Karage is a 44-year-old man with a lot of years left over which to spread those payments. As it stands, he says he gets about $2,400 a month, which, when you're raising two teens and two young children, is scraping by. And work has been hard to find lately.
The new bill may have given him the annuity, but he's still missing out on an extra $55,000 for time served that would have been payable had he filed under the new compensation regime. It isn't retroactive, something Karage believes is unjust. "I have to struggle," he said. "Least they can do is lend me a little money so I can get an old house for my kids.
"I had to borrow some money. That's how I get this place," he said, referring to the apartment in Richardson he shares with his children.