January 21, 2008
Alan Crotzer is working at a landscaping company, hoping one day to be compensated for the 24 years he spent in prison for a rape he didn't commit.
Florida lawmakers have failed to pass a bill to pay him -- and he's again asking the Legislature for $1.25 million for the two decades of freedom he gave up.
Several states have automatic compensation for people who have been wrongfully imprisoned and then released -- something that is happening more and more because of increasing use of DNA to prove innocence.
But Florida remains one of 28 states that don't guarantee compensation for those who spent precious years behind bars for something they didn't do. Nine men have been freed by DNA in Florida in recent years, but only one has received money.
"I don't have any education, I don't have any real job skills. So I'm doing what I can," Crotzer, 47, said recently. "I went on public assistance.
"How can you take more than half a man's life and expect to do nothing for him?"
In 1982, Crotzer was convicted of robbing a Tampa family and kidnapping and raping a 38-year-old woman and a 12-year-old girl at gunpoint during the crime.
Crotzer said he was nowhere near the scene and witnesses corroborated that, but he had a previous robbery conviction when he was 17 and a witness picked him out of a lineup. He was sentenced to 130 years in prison.
Years later, another man convicted in the robbery told police that Crotzer wasn't with them that night and revealed the real rapist. DNA testing along with the other evidence convinced prosecutors that he wasn't involved. He was released in 2006.
The state has immunity from large lawsuits, so exonerated prisoners must go to the Legislature and ask for compensation. Lawmakers can pass a special "claims bill" that pays people for wrongs by the government.
But only Wilton Dedge has managed to get such a bill through the Legislature. Dedge spent 22 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit, and in 2005 lawmakers awarded him $2 million.
Senate President Ken Pruitt said compensation for the wrongfully convicted is one of his priorities for this year.
"Government gets it wrong sometimes, and when we do, we must take responsibility," said Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie.
Gov. Charlie Crist has also said the wrongly imprisoned deserve compensation.
State Sen. Arthenia Joyner is sponsoring a bill to provide most exonerated inmates $100,000 for every year behind bars. For Crotzer, that would mean more than $2 million.
Leaders in the House and Senate say, however, that some lawmakers would only vote for compensation legislation that limits eligibility to people who have never committed any crimes.
Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, who is working on the measure in the House, said government has a moral obligation to compensate people who are "completely innocent."