How much is a year of your freedom worth? A new law was supposed to compensate people locked up for crimes they did not commit in the amount of $50,000 per year.
Instead exonerees say the law is reminding them the legal system isn’t always about justice.
“Every day I bear a cross. and that cross is the fact I haven’t been able to raise my nephew and have missed out on a lot,” said Julie Baumer.
In 2003 Baumer took her six-week-old nephew, who she planned to adopt, to the doctor knowing something wasn’t right.
One doctor said Baby Phillip suffered blunt force trauma. Another said he had shaken baby syndrome.
Baumer says she got the shock of her life when she was convicted of child abuse.
“You don’t wake up one day and say today I am going to be charged with a crime I did not commit,” said Baumer.
After almost five years in prison, the Michigan Innocence Clinic found an MRI showed little Phillip suffered a stroke, not trauma. Julie was exonerated.
By then Phillip had been adopted and Julie had no right to see him.
Chamar Avery’s nightmare started in 2000.
A woman said she saw the high school senior rob and kill a man delivering pizza at Central and Dayton in southwest Detroit. Avery said he was on the city’s west side waiting for his car to be repaired at Crime's Towing and Auto Shop but the court didn’t hear about his alibi.
After he spent 8 years in prison, a judge heard from witnesses with him when the murder happened and exonerated him. He missed high school, time with family, and 8 years with his daughter.
“It is priceless. Even talking to her and seeing her dreams and ambitions. The time they stole where I could have installed more enthusiasm in her. More light in her,” said Avery.
When lawmakers passed the Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act they looked at Chamar’s case and Julie’s case on the National Registry of Exonerations.
Julie even testified to help pass the bill.
Now Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s Office is fighting their effort to get that compensation.
In Chamar’s case, he and his attorney Alyson Oliver say the legislation said current exonerees must act “within 18 months after the effective date of this act.”
They thought by filing within 18 months - they did just that. They acted.
But the Michigan Attorney General’s Office says court of claims procedure requires notice be filed within 6 months, and a judge agreed.
“I don’t understand why the AG would file the motion. I don’t understand why they would think to do that. Just assess the claim, pay the money. That is what the bill is for,” said Oliver.
They are numerous other exonerees in the same situation. Attorney Wolfgang Mueller says two of his clients, Donya Davis and Nathaniel Hatchett, were exonerated by conclusive DNA evidence.
They however also are impacted by this interpretation of the deadline for filing.
“The statute is clear as day,” said Sen. Steven Bieda, (D-Macomb County).
Senator Bieda wrote the legislation. He says lawmakers gave exonerees 18 months to make sure they had time to learn about the law and react. They say they don’t believe the judge should have moved up the timeframe.
“I don’t want to see somebody that is innocent denied justice one more day,” said Bieda.
In the meantime, even those who made the deadline, like Julie Baumer are struggling.
The Attorney General is arguing her attorney should have found the evidence of the stroke at trial, that even though the prosecutor’s doctors did not, that the state is not liable.
“It is just wrong,” said Attorney Kenneth Finegood, who represents Baumer.
“I would like to see them end the nightmare and not have to relive what took away their freedom in the first place. And that is what is happening,” said Attorney Gabi Silver, who also represents Baumer.
“It is like not having that closure that I thought I was going to get. I don’t have that psychological or emotional closure and who knows when I will,” said Baumer.
Julie says she wants the law fixed— so in the future people can easily get help starting over when exonerated.
Attorney General Bill Schuette’s Office says it will not stop fighting payouts where the law allows, but will work with lawmakers on how to rewrite the legislation.
Senator Steven Bieda says he is already writing new legislation. Write your lawmaker if you have an opinion on what should happen.