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July 26, 2021
LANSING - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued the following statement in response to Governor Gretchen Whitmer signing Senate Bill 27, a supplemental appropriations bill that includes $7 million for the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act (WICA) Fund:
"For months now, we've known the WICA fund was running into the red as the Legislature negotiated budget bills. While I am encouraged to see $7 million go back into the fund with this bill signing, I urge our legislators to understand the priority this fund must have for pending and future claims.
"When the Act was signed in 2016, it was a promise to provide relief to those who spent years of their lives in prison for crimes they did not commit. Assisting these individuals as they restart their lives is one way to right that wrong. We owe the wrongfully imprisoned more than just compensation - we owe them support and respect. That cannot be achieved without a proper appropriation to the WICA Fund."
Previously, the Department of Treasury notified the Legislature that the WICA funds were running low, pursuant to state law, through two 60-day insufficient funding notices. One notice was sent in January, the other was sent last month. Last week, the funds were depleted completely.
Prior to the fund reaching $0, Gilbert Poole was awarded a judgment of just under $1.6 million for the more than three decades he spent in prison for a crime he did not commit. But Treasury was only able to process $370,730.86, which was the remaining fund balance. More than $1.2 million remains owed to Poole. Nessel's Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) worked alongside the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Innocence Project to obtain an exoneration for Poole in May. Once Poole's remaining balance is removed from the replenished $7 million, there still remains more than $8.3 million in pending claims currently being reviewed and litigated.
Among the pending WICA claims is a complaint asking for $778,377.18 in compensation plus costs and attorney fees for Corey McCall. The CIU announced the vacation and dismissal of McCall's conviction last month after collaboration with the Berrien County Prosecutor's Office, the Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety, and the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Innocence Project.
Launched in 2019, Nessel's CIU investigates credible claims of innocence to ensure no one is convicted of a crime they didn't commit.