Few exonerees receive payment for wrongful convictions newshomepage1 tulsaworld.com wisdom tooth extraction bleeding

After 12 forensic experts said Wilhoit’s teeth did not match a bite mark used to convict him in 1987, an appeals court threw out his conviction. Two years later, a judge halted Osage County prosecutors’ efforts to retry him, telling Wilhoit: “You’re free to go.”

The state fought Wilhoit’s attempts to collect money under the law, claiming he had not received a finding of “actual innocence” as required. In 2009, the state Supreme Court ruled the law should apply retroactively to Wilhoit’s case and others before 2003 because the law requiring such a finding didn’t exist then.

The World’s review shows Wilhoit is among just six out of 28 Oklahomans listed on the National Exoneration Registry who collected any money for their years spent in prison. They served an average of 9 years in prison, with half serving a decade or more.


To seek compensation under the law, exonerees must file tort claims from the state or local agency involved in the case. If the agency does not pay the claim within the time allowed by law, the claimant must then file a lawsuit in state court.

The World found just one case in which the state or a local government agency paid a tort claim without forcing the exoneree to file a lawsuit under the 2003 law. That involved Tulsan Sedrick Courtney, who served 16 years in prison for a robbery and burglary conviction.

Then in 2011, after Courtney had been paroled, the Innocence Project inquired again about the evidence. This time, Tulsa police said they found the hair evidence. A DNA test excluded Courtney as a possible donor of the hairs and in 2012, a judge ruled he had proven his innocence.

Out of 11 cases studied by the World in which DNA evidence led to an exoneration, six people collected money from the state or other government agency. Besides McGee’s case, payments in only one other DNA case exceeded $1 million, records show.

Barrett has represented several Oklahoma defendants in high profile cases resulting in exoneration. His clients have included Ron Williamson, whose story was the focus of John Grisham’s “The Innocent Man,” and Williamson’s co-defendant, Dennis Fritz.

“You almost have to be the case — which are not the majority of exonerations — that not only has DNA but has DNA which by its location could have only been placed there by the perpetrator. … Without solving the case for the prosecution, even the most innocent person who there is absolutely no evidence against cannot prove definitively that they were not the person who did it.” ‘Not even a penny’

During that time, the state carried out its first execution since the 1970s. Wilhoit’s cell was about 100 feet from the death chamber. The experience led him to become a leading advocate of abolishing the death penalty, speaking across the nation about his experience.

“I have been out more than 10 years. The toughest parts have been re-assimilating into society, and dealing with emotional and psychological damage from my experience. I lost the opportunity to raise my two daughters. I never received an apology. … Every time I tell my story, it validates my experience. I tell what happened to me, how I feel, and let people draw their own conclusions.”