How much money should Virginia reimburse the wrongly imprisoned?

Posted at 1:21 PM, Feb 09, 2012
and last updated 2012-02-23 14:59:36-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - How much money should the state pay to reimburse Virginians who spend time in prison for crimes they did not commit?

Virginia currently uses a formula based on 20 years of imprisonment to determine the amount of money a wrongfully-imprisoned person should receive.

Two bills were introduced to the 2012 Virginia General Assembly that focus on one such case.

State Senator Henry Marsh (D - Richmond) proposed a bill that would order Virginia to pay Thomas Haynesworth more than $1,000,000 [SB41]. Haynesworth spent 27 years in a Virginia prison for a rape DNA evidence later proved he did not committ.

State Senator Donald McEachin (D - Richmond) proposed a bill [SB649] that would award Haynesworth 27 years of credit in the Virginia Retirement System.

"When work is over you want to sit back, relax, enjoy life to the fullest, " said Thomas Haynesworth Thursday afternoon.

Haynesworth said he knows it seems ironic to talk about retirement since he is just shy of a year working in the Attorney General’s office after being exonerated.

Haynesworth said he is glad lawmakers are making this legislation a priority.

Senate Bill 41 introduced by Senator Henry Marsh passed unanimously through a senate finance committee and now must go to the full Senate.

McEachin said that could happen as early as next Monday.

Then, he said they will hand the measure over to the House. Using a set formula, Haynesworth could receive more than $1 million. That’s not all. Senator McEachin said it is important they consider that while Thomas was imprisoned, he was unable to save for retirement.

McEachin’s legislation, Senate bill 649 would credit Thomas 27 years of service in the VA. Retirement System.

If the bills pass, those benefits would not only cover Thomas for the 27 years but the provision would be applied across the board.

“The retirement piece is new and we had to go through a lot of work to make sure we weren’t doing special legislation so it will be available to other people should these unfortunate circumstances repeat themselves,” said  McEachin.

Additionally, he said Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli had a hand in helping them come up with that provision.

“I would like to thank him for his ideas with this bill. That was the part that he came up with, the VRS option. It was creative and helpful and appropriate to Mr. Haynesworth,” added McEachin.

"Sometimes your situation has to be a stepping stone for somebody else," Thomas said. “I’m not bitter about the situation. Just happy with where I am in my life."