State to pay innocent man $6M for 20 years in prison

Miguel Roman, who served 20 years, six months and 10 days in prison for a murder the state concedes he did not commit, was awarded $6 million Monday by the state claims commissioner. DNA evidence exonerated him in 2008 and convicted another man in 2011.

The state did not contest the damages calculated by the claims commissioner, J. Paul Vance Jr., who has sole authority under state law to attach a monetary value to damages arising from a wrongful conviction and incarceration.

“Mr. Roman’s story was extremely powerful and his pursuit of justice is a testament to the justice system in Connecticut,” Vance wrote. “Mr. Roman endured the unthinkable and even with his continuing struggles, he has persevered.”

Roman was convicted in the murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend, 17-year-old Carmen Lopez, who was found dead in her apartment in Hartford on Jan. 5, 1988. Her hands and feet were bound, and she had been beaten, then strangled with a heater cord.

No physical evidence tied him to the crime, but he was convicted on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of a jailhouse informant, according to a summary of the case by the Innocence Project. His conviction was affirmed by the Connecticut Supreme Court, but the case was reopened after the Innocence Project and his attorney, Rosemarie Paine, sought DNA testing unavailable at the time of trial.

The Hartford state’s attorney’s office agreed to the testing, which excluded Roman as a potential killer and incriminated another man, Pedro Miranda, who was convicted in 2011 in Lopez’s murder. Miranda also was convicted last year in the murder of a 13-year-old girl, Mayra Cruz, killed a year before Lopez.

Roman spent long periods in administrative segregation for his own protection as the convicted killer of a pregnant teenage girl, and he has suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress since his release, Vance wrote.

The attorney general’s office did not object to damages, but it had noted that Roman has a federal civil rights lawsuit pending against the Hartford Police Department and requested that Vance “take steps” to ensure Romano does not receive double compensation.

Vance declined, saying Roman has received nothing through his lawsuit and the claims commissioner cannot “simply speculate as to the award in order to carve out a reduction.” State law allows him to only consider other damages already received, he said.

He could not delay the award. His deadline for acting on the application was Monday.

Vance awarded $2.6 million for loss of liberty and enjoyment of life, $940,000 for loss of earnings and earning capacity, $500,000 for loss of relationships, $300,000 for loss of reputation, $1.6 million for physical and mental injuries, and $60,000 for costs and expenses.

The case is the third to yield a multi-million dollar award under a wrongful conviction law passed in 2008, inspired by the special legislative act that had been necessary to compensate James Tillman after DNA exonerated him and convicted another man in a rape.

“The process of awarding compensation for wrongful incarceration is still in its infancy in Connecticut and the case law is sparse,” Vance wrote. “The legislature intended to make certain that those individuals who were treated unfairly and improperly imprisoned were compensated.”

Tillman, who served 18 years in prison, had to testify at the legislature about the impact of his false imprisonment. Rather than consider subsequent cases on an ad hoc basis, the legislature created a process overseen by the claims commissioner.

The award last month of $16.8 million – $4.2 million each to four former gang members who had been convicted in a New Haven murder – has prompted a call at the legislature for a review of the law.

Unlike the cases of Tillman, Ireland and Roman, where DNA proved innocence and convicted someone else, the state did not concede the innocence of the four New Haven men.

The Connecticut Supreme Court had ordered a new trial based on prosecutorial misconduct and the perjury of a key witness. The state’s attorney dismissed the charges, saying the death of the witness and passage of time left him unable to try the four men again.

The attorney general’s office complained that the men did not meet the standard under the law for proving innocence.

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