GOVERNOR SIGNS COMPENSATION MEASURE
FOR WRONGLY-CONVICTED MAN
Atlanta --May 17, 2005
Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue (R) has signed into law legislation to financially compensate Clarence Harrison for nearly 18 years of wrongful imprisonment.
Spearheaded by State Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield (D-Decatur) in the House and State Sen. Horacena Tate (D-Atlanta) in the Senate, the resolution will pay Harrison $1 million over the next 20 years. Co-sponsors of the bill include State Reps. Stan Watson (D-Decatur), Willie Talton (R-Warner Robins), Mack Crawford (R-Concord), Michele Henson (D-Stone Mountain), and Pam Stephenson (D-Lithonia). House members voted 136-22 to adopt the bill, with the Senate passing the measure unanimously.
Clarence Harrison was freed from prison in August 2004, after the Georgia Innocence Project proved that he did not commit the 1986 rape, robbery, and kidnapping of which he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Three other pieces of legislation addressing compensation for the wrongfully-convicted failed to clear the House of Representatives this session. House Appropriations Committee members voted to table the Innocent Persons’ Compensation Act for more study between the 2005 and 2006 legislation sessions. The Act seeks to establish a formula for compensating all future victims of wrongful conviction. Resolutions to compensate Douglas Echols and Samuel Scott of Savannah, exonerated of rape charges in 2002, stalled in a House Appropriations subcommittee.
BILLS TO COMPENSATE CLARENCE HARRISON AND OTHER WRONGFULLY INCARCERATED GEORGIANS INTRODUCED IN THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Atlanta -- February 4, 2005
Legislation aimed at helping to restore the lives of three Georgia men -- who each spent years in prison for crimes they did not commit -- will come before the General Assembly this session.
State Representative Stephanie Stuckey Benfield (D-Decatur) has introduced a resolution to compensate Clarence Harrison, who was convicted in 1987 of rape, robbery and kidnapping. Harrison served nearly 18 years of a life sentence before being exonerated in August 2004 through the work of the Georgia Innocence Project. The resolution requests $1.7 million dollars for Harrison. The amount is based on data provided by an economist looking at what Harrison would have earned during his years of incarceration. Said Rep. Stuckey Benfield, “We can’t give this man back 18 years of his life, but we can help him build a new life and become self-sufficient. The government should take responsibility when a mistake is made.” Harrison intends to use any funds the legislature awards him to continue the college education he began while in prison and to build a secure future for himself and his family.
State Representative Tom Bordeaux (D-Savannah) has introduced a similar bill on to compensate Samuel Scott and Douglas Echols. The two men were convicted of raping a Savannah woman in 1986. Echols was paroled in 1991; Scott was released in September 2001, but DNA testing in 2002 overturned their convictions.
Recognizing that the number of exonerations will increase due to developments in DNA technology, Rep. Stuckey Benfield will introduce next week the Innocent Persons’ Compensation Act. “Nearly twenty states already have laws that address all future cases of wrongful incarceration, and it’s likely that legislators will want to address these three cases all at once and provide now for compensation in future cases,” said Stuckey Benfield. The Innocent Persons’ Compensation Act calculates compensation based on the length of time a person is wrongfully incarcerated. According to Stuckey Benfield, “The Innocent Persons’ Compensation Act creates some uniformity in how individuals who are wrongly convicted will be compensated and will insure that all such persons are treated fairly.”
CLARENCE HARRISON CALLS FOR REFORMS IN THE LAW, IN YOUNG LIVES
More Than 17 Years in Prison Teaches Harrison Lessons He Now Shares
By Lisa George, GIP Communications Director
Atlanta - February 2005
After spending nearly 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Clarence Harrison would have every right to be angry at the legal system.
But as Harrison told attorneys at a recent gathering of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (GACDL), anger is an emotion he left behind in a prison cell years before his release in August 2004. “I knew that hatred wouldn’t get me out, so I had to leave that hatred behind.”
He also left behind his years of study as a “jailhouse lawyer,” learning the legal system in an attempt to change his fate before the courts. Harrison told GACDL members that he now discourages prisoners from trying to handle their own legal work because of the possibility of jeopardizing their cases. He also called on the lawyers to fight against the legal concept of “harmless error.” Harmless error, said attorney David Wolfe, is a factor that led to Harrison’s conviction. Wolfe served as a volunteer attorney with the Georgia Innocence Project (GIP) on Harrison’s case. DNA evidence procured by GIP ultimately led to Harrison’s release.
While Harrison was cleared of the rape conviction that sent him to prison in 1987, he does not consider himself an innocent man. He feels his behavior in his teen years, including a conviction for armed robbery, led to his becoming a suspect in the rape. Speaking to a group of young people in Clayton County, Harrison sent the message loud and clear that prison is no joke and that early bad behavior can quickly lead to a life no one wants to live. Quoted in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Harrison told the young people, “ "Don't try to grow up too fast. Enjoy youth while you can. Life has so much to offer."
Project HIP, a program designed to address the problems of pre-teens and teenagers in danger of entering the court system for their behavior, is just one of many church, civic, and youth groups Harrison has addressed in recent months. Harrison feels it is his duty to pass along the lessons of faith and perseverance he learned in prison.
If you are interested in having Mr. Harrison speak to your group, call the Georgia Innocence Project at (404) 872-8236.
and Yvonne Harrison on their wedding day.
GIP Client Walks Down the Aisle
September 18, 2004 (Decatur, GA) -- It took nearly 18 years for Clarence Harrison to prove
he was innocent of a heinous crime, but it took him
just 18 days after his exoneration of that crime to
become a married man.
In November 1986, Harrison was arrested for rape, kidnapping,
and robbery. He was convicted and sentenced to life
in prison. Harrison contacted the Georgia Innocence
Project (GIP) in February 2003, and GIP took his case.
Through DNA testing, GIP proved that Harrison was innocent.
On August 31, 2004, he walked out of prison a free man.
And on September 18, he walked down the aisle to marry
Yvonne Zellars, a woman who had believed in him since
their meeting seven years earlier
met Harrison through a chance phone conversation, and she began
ministering to him in prison. About a year after they met, Clarence
asked Yvonne to marry him if he ever got out of prison. She
agreed, but the prospect of his release was dim. He had already
been denied parole twice. But Yvonne encouraged Clarence to
keep trying to prove his innocence, and her encouragement led
him to GIP.
Just moments after he won his freedom, Harrison told reporters
on the DeKalb County Courthouse steps that one of his first
goals was to buy Yvonne a ring and make her his bride. With
the help of many generous supporters and the blessings of hundreds
of friends and family members, Clarence and Yvonne’s dream
has come true. Clarence and Yvonne Harrison and The Georgia Innocence
Project would like to thank the following individuals and businesses
for helping to give the happy couple an especially wonderful
start on their new life:
|Brides Bridal Salon
|The Diamond Warehouse
||Michon’s Smoked Meats & Seafood
||Front Door Studio
|Gus Brown Videography
||Reynolds Printing & Copy Center
|Balloons for All Occasions
|Atlanta Praise Group
||April Shower Events
||Visualizing Change Events & Décor
|Straight Life Church Family & Volunteers
||God’s Country Farm Log Cabins
happy couple with those who helped make Clarence’s freedom
possible: former GIP intern Emily Gilbert, GIP co-founders
September Guy and Jill Polster, GIP volunteer attorney David
Wolfe, Yvonne and Clarence, GIP Executive Director Aimee Maxwell,
DeKalb County District Attorney Jeff Brickman, GIP intern Laura
Verduci, GIP intern Jason Costa, GIP Communications Consultant
INMATE GOES FREE AFTER 17 YEARS IN PRISON
Atlanta – August
Harrison, 44, of Decatur, Georgia, walked out
of a DeKalb County courtroom this morning a
free man. Harrison had been incarcerated since
November 1986 for a crime he did not commit.
DNA test results proved that Harrison was not the perpetrator of an October
1986 rape, robbery, and kidnapping.
Harrison is a client of The Georgia Innocence Project (GIP). The
organization was founded in August 2002, and Clarence Harrison is
the first prisoner exonerated
through GIP’s efforts.
DNA test results were finalized just a week ago, and through the
cooperation and assistance of the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, Harrison’s
Extraordinary Motion for a New Trial was heard quickly. This morning, DeKalb
Superior Court Judge Cynthia J. Becker granted the motion and the District
Attorney’s request that Harrison be released immediately.
If you’d like to email Clarence directly, you can reach him
ON THE CASE: CLARENCE HARRISON
Early on the morning of October 25, 1986, a woman was
attacked as she walked in the rain to a bus stop
in Decatur, Georgia. The assailant approached the
woman, hit her in the face, and then dragged her to an embankment. The
assailant raped and sodomized the woman and dragged her
to two other locations, repeating
the crime in each location. At some point during the assault, the assailant
stole the woman’s wristwatch.
After the assailant left, the woman sought help at the home
of a friend, and police were called. The victim was taken to
a local hospital for treatment
where a rape kit was collected.
During investigation, police were led to Clarence Harrison
because he lived not far from the site of the abduction
and because neighbors told police they
had heard someone at his house had a watch to sell. However, the victim’s
watch was not found at Harrison’s home.
Harrison still became a suspect, and investigators included
his photo in a group of pictures they showed to the victim.
She identified Harrison as her
attacker. Another woman who lived in the neighborhood told officers that
two men had come to her door that night, and one was wet. From
a similar group
of photos, she picked out Harrison.
Police arrested Clarence Harrison in early November 1986. He maintained his
innocence from the outset. A DeKalb County jury convicted him on March 18,
1987 of rape and robbery, and Harrison was sentenced to life in prison.
In September 1988, at the request of the DeKalb County Public Defender’s
office, slides from the rape kit were sent to a commercial lab for DNA
analysis. That lab was unable to perform DNA analysis on the slides,
but Clarence Harrison
continued to pursue DNA testing. He contacted several organizations without
success before writing to The Georgia Innocence Project (GIP) in February
Several GIP interns worked on the case. The bulk of the work
on the case was done by two interns. Laura Verduci is a third
year law student at Georgia State
University; Jason Costa is a second year law student at Emory University.
The first interns to realize that this was a good innocence
claim were: Emily Gilbert,
from GSU Law School - now a public defender in DeKalb County, and Tracy Shessler,
a recent Emory graduate with a major in Sociology and minor in Violence Studies.
Though slides from the case had been sent at least once for
testing, Mr. Harrison was told in the early 1990s that all
the evidence had been destroyed. GIP was
able to track down two slides from the rape kit.
The DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office offered complete cooperation
and assistance to GIP from the time it initiated contact about the Harrison
case. New DNA samples were taken from Mr. Harrison, and they were sent
to Dr. Edward Blake at Forensic Science Associates in California, along
with one slide
from the rape kit. Dr. Blake returned his results in late August 2004
with the conclusion that the DNA evidence obtained from Harrison could
not possibly belong to the same man whose DNA was in the rape kit.
BACKGROUND ON THE GEORGIA INNOCENCE PROJECT
The Georgia Innocence Project (GIP) began operation in August
2002 and began to investigate cases in January 2003. GIP’s
mission is to free the wrongly prosecuted through the use
of DNA testing, to advance practices that minimize
the chances that others suffer the same fate, and to educate the public
that wrongful convictions are not rare or isolated events.
GIP adheres to an extensive screening process for its cases.
To date, GIP has received more than 1,100 requests for assistance
but has accepted only seven
clients. The case work is done primarily by volunteer law students and lawyers
throughout Georgia with supervision from Executive Director Aimee Maxwell,
a lawyer with 16 years experience, most recently with the Georgia Indigent
The Georgia Innocence Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization
that receives funding from the Georgia Bar Foundation, the Lawyers Foundation,
Hewitt Foundation, ChoicePoint Cares, the Charles Edmondson Foundation,
and other private donors.