Bill Would Set Up Compensation Program For Wrongfully Convicted

Fairbanks Democratic State Representative Scott Kawasaki has prefiled a bill that would set up a system for compensating people wrongfully convicted of crimes.

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Wrongful conviction is a hot topic in Fairbanks as a decision is pending on key evidence in a long contested murder case.The Fairbanks Four case involves 4 local men convicted of the 1997 beating death of Fairbanks teenager John Hartman. The four maintain they didn’t do it, and the Alaska Innocence Project is working the case, seeking the release of incriminating statements made by a Fairbanks man convicted of an unrelated murder, to his attorney about the Hartman killing.

State Representative Scott Kawasaki says his bill, which would provide up to 2 million dollars to an exonerated individual, is not just about the Fairbanks Four.

“The Fairbanks Four is a very sensational issue in Fairbank, but the facts are out there that there were a record number of exonerations last year in the United States,” Kawasaki said. “And, of course, there’s no way to turn back the time, but in a small way, I think compensation for those who have been wrongfully convicted, this is a way to help heal.”

Kawaskai says the legislation is modeled after similar compensation programs in other states.

“We worked closely with the Alaska Innocence Project and with innocence groups across the U.S. that have introduced legislation like this,” Kawasaki said. “I think currently half the states have some sort of compensation statutes in place.”

Kawasaki submitted a similar wrongful conviction compensation bill late last session that did not move, but says the reception was generally favorable, and he’s working with the judiciary committee to address issues, including provision that would prevent a wrongfully convicted individual who accepts compensation, from suing the state.