INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — On Thursday, state lawmakers sent a strong message of support for those exonerated Hoosiers trying to figure out their futures after being released from prison.
State Rep. Greg Steuerwald, a Republican from Avon, wants to give exonerated prisoners $50,000 per year they spent wrongfully imprisoned.
“There are no words to describe, because literally life is happening while you’re gone,” said Kristine Bunch, who was wrongfully convicted.
For 17 years, Bunch sat in prison, wrongfully convicted of arson and the murder of her 3-year-old son in a 1995 house fire.
“When you step out, you’re never getting them (the years) back,” Bunch said while tearing up. “Those years are gone.”
Bunch got an education from Ball State University while behind bars. Along the way, forensic science improved. Then in December 2012, the moment she’d waited more than a decade for came: She was exonerated and released from prison.
“I was so excited because that’s the moment you’re waiting for,” Bunch explained. “That’s the moment you’re praying for. But I was so afraid because I didn’t know where I was going to go, where I was going to go, where I was going to get clothed, how I was going to take care of my child.”
State Rep. Greg Steuerwald’s bill would give money to the wrongfully convicted Hoosiers, along with services to help get them back on their feet.
Steuerwald explained Thursday, “If you’re exonerated right now in Indiana, they open the door and you find your own way home.”
“This would move Indiana forward in terms of fairness, by providing compensation to exonerees who have been found by reliable evidence to be actually innocent,” said Fran Watson, director of the Wrongful Conviction Clinic at Indiana University’s robert H. McKinney School of Law.
But people who are exonerated would have to make a choice.
“If you want to sue, you can do that,” Steuerwald said. “But if you want to elect to take from the fund, you can do that, but you can’t do both.”
“I am thrilled that Rep. Steuerwald is trying to bring this bill forward and raise some awareness,” Bunch said. “But, as that bill stands right now, no exoneree in the state, that I know of, would be eligible for it, because we’ve all sued.”
The bill passed through committee Thursday and will head to the House for a vote.