Exonerated prisoners could receive $25K for each year wrongfully served under proposed Indiana law

Posted at 10:42 PM, Jan 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-18 15:10:47-05

INDIANAPOLIS -- A bill under consideration by Indiana lawmakers would compensate people like Keith Cooper who spent nearly a decade in prison for a crime he didn't commit. 

"Horrible. It's like a nightmare. To this day I still have bad dreams about what happened and how they got me," said Cooper.

Based on eyewitness accounts, Cooper was convicted of armed robbery.  He was sentenced to 40 years behind bars. 

During that time, Cooper says he clung to the idea of seeing his wife and three children again someday.

"I had just found out that my kids and my family was in a shelter. And being housed in that prison for those nine years I came across guys that were predators and I used to listen to their stories how they found their victims. And one of them was to a shelters. So the thoughts were rushing through my head of what if my daughter comes across this guy and the first person she hollers for is her daddy and her daddy's in here with these guys," said Cooper.

DNA evidence eventually cleared Cooper and he was released from prison in 2006. Cooper is the first innocent person in Indiana history to be pardoned by a governor.

"You all just snatched it from me. Threw me on the ground. It just humiliated me for something I have no conscious of, no knowledge whatsoever of what I've done," said Cooper.

"There was a small number of police officers who were at the Elkhart Police Department who committed egregiously misconduct and we believe that some of that misconduct was racially motivated," said Elliot Slosar, Cooper's attorney.

A bill introduced by Brownsburg representative Greg Steuerwald aims to give exonerated prisoners like Cooper $25,000 for each year they wrongfully served.

"Most of these people have been incarcerated for decades because they were incarcerated or wrongfully convicted before DNA testing actually came into being. So we are talking about people who have been in there since the 80s and 90s," said Rep. Steuerwald, (R) Brownsburg.

Cooper says life hasn't been easy in the year since he was pardoned by Gov. Eric Holcomb but he's adjusting.

"If you are innocent, continue to fight. There's people here to help us. Just don't give up," said Cooper.

Indiana is one of 18 states without a wrongful conviction compensation law.

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