Exonerated Fla. man gets no help after his release

Monday, September 13, 2004

PORT ST. JOHN, Fla. -- A man who was freed after serving 22 years for a rape he didn't commit walked out of jail with a few possessions in a plastic bag, and nothing else.

Wilton A. Dedge, 42, didn't get the $100 that Florida gives even its most vicious ex-cons when he was released last month. He didn't get the counseling or job referrals or temporary housing the state offers paroled murderers and rapists.

He didn't even get a bus ticket home.

There was no compensation for the prison term Dedge received after a 17-year-old rape victim mistakenly identified him as her attacker. DNA testing proved his innocence.

"The system is not set up to deal with exonerees," said Nina Morrison, an attorney who fought for more than a decade to free Dedge on behalf of the New York-based Innocence Project. "Ironically, instead of getting more, exonerees usually get less."

Debbie Buchanan, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said Dedge was not entitled to the benefits given to parolees because he was released from a county jail, where he was awaiting the outcome of the DNA test.

Because Florida has no wrongful-conviction compensation law, Dedge will have to sue the state or persuade a state legislator to sponsor a private-claims bill if he hopes to gain any state money.

Only 18 states and the federal government provide some compensation to those falsely imprisoned.

Still, Dedge has received cards, cash, a computer, free dental care and at least five job offers from friends and strangers, his mother said.

"My mind just jumps left and right, thinking about the people I was with in prison and things I need to do," Dedge told the Orlando Sentinel. "I'm trying to get a normal life, but I really haven't had time to spend with myself."

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