Man wrongly imprisoned seeks millions from state
A man has been awarded $6 million after serving more than 20 years for a wrongful conviction.
FILE - In this Aug. 19, 2009, file photo, a smiling Kenneth Ireland leaves Superior Court in New Haven, Conn., after all charges were dropped against him in connection with the rape and murder of Barbara Pelkey. New DNA evidence proved he did not commit the crimes. Ireland filed a wrongful imprisonment claim against the state seeking up to $8 million, and a hearing begins Tuesday, July 29, 2014, to determine how much he should be compensated. (AP Photo/Bob Child, File)
Kenneth Ireland, who spent 20+ yrs in prison for crime he didn't commit, reacts to $6M settlement from #CT. @FoxCT http://t.co/qDmTsPqbmF
Kenneth Ireland, wrongfully convicted in 1986 Wallingford murder, wins $6M from state via … http://t.co/GWPGlw9fMA http://t.co/mPefggS6r3
Kenneth Ireland's booking mug projected as he testifies at claims commission hearing on his wrongful incarceration. http://t.co/ZKZuUdrk9F
Cherry Cooney testifies about her son Kenneth Ireland's lost youth during his 21-year wrongful incarceration at LOB. http://t.co/3khVIyLzPF
Kenneth Ireland watches a video of himself at 17 interrogated by detectives. He served 21 yrs before being exonerated http://t.co/5CoHHCIrWY
Kenneth Ireland listens as his mother testifies at a claims commission hearing at the LOB. http://t.co/9NJZPpZAK3
Kenneth "Ricky" Ireland poses for a photograph in Hartford, Conn., Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009. Murder and rape charges were dismissed Wednesday against Ireland, who spent two decades in prison before DNA testing showed he could not have committed the crime. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Kenneth "Ricky" Ireland speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Hartford, Conn., Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009. Murder and rape charges were dismissed Wednesday against Ireland, who spent two decades in prison before DNA testing showed he could not have committed the crime. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Kenneth Ireland listens to questions as he left Superior Court in New Haven, Conn.., Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009 after all charges were dropped against him in connection with the rape and murder of Barbara Pelkey in 1986. New DNA evidence proved that Ireland was not the person who committed the crimes. (AP Photo/Bob Child)
Kenneth "Ricky" Ireland poses in Hartford, Conn., Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009. Murder and rape charges were dropped against Ireland who spent two decades in prison before DNA testing showed he could not have committed the crimes. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Kenneth Ireland speaks briefly with reporters as he left Superior Court in New Haven, Conn., Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009 after all charges were dropped against him in connection with the rape and murder of Barbara Pelkey in 1986. New DNA evidence proved that Ireland was not the person who committed the crimes. (AP Photo/Bob Child)
By STEPHEN SINGER
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut man cleared of murder and rape charges after being locked up for two decades made an emotional appeal for millions in compensation on Tuesday, telling the state claims commissioner about the fear he endured in prison.
Kenneth Ireland was imprisoned at the age of 18 and released in 2009 at age 39 after DNA tests proved that another man fatally beat a mother of four in 1986. He's seeking $5.4 million to $8 million under Connecticut's wrongful incarceration law.
"You never think this is going to happen to you, especially in America," Ireland said during his nearly two-hour appearance. "I figured there was an error being made and that they'd figure this out and it would go away."
Ireland described the terror he felt as a 20-year-old man heading to a maximum security prison notorious for gang violence.
"I was in absolute turmoil. I was telling anybody who would listen there's been a mistake made, I didn't do this. I'm innocent," he said. "I couldn't get anyone to listen to me."
Ireland's ordeal began when he was 17 and was called to the Wallingford police station to answer questions about the drowning death of a friend a year earlier, he said. Police soon began questioning Ireland about the beating death of 30-year-old Barbara Pelkey.
A SWAT team later arrested him at the sandwich shop where he worked, he said. He was convicted in 1989 and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Ireland's mother, Cherry Cooney, told Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr. that her son wrote her a letter that he would die in prison and that there was no hope.
"As a mother, it broke my heart," she said.
"It was a wasted 21 years of his life, a senseless waste."
The claims commission hearing for wrongful imprisonment is the first in Connecticut. James Tillman was released from a state prison in 2006 after serving 18 years for rape and was paid $5 million by the legislature for his wrongful conviction.
Vance said during a break in the hearing that 22 other wrongful imprisonment cases are pending, though they are not as clear-cut as Ireland's claim, which he called a "true innocent." Other cases cite prison terms that extended beyond what they were called for and other claims of miscarriage of justice, he said.
Vance said he doesn't know when he will announce his decision on Ireland's claim.
Attorney General George Jepsen has told Vance he does not object to the compensation sought by Ireland.
In 2007, the Connecticut Innocence Project, which looks into potentially wrong convictions, began reviewing the case against Ireland. Following DNA tests, a Superior Court dismissed all charges against him.
In 2012, Kevin Benefield was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the beating death of Pelkey. He worked at a catering and car business in the Wallingford building where Pelkey worked.
Ireland, who now works as a bookkeeper, said he at first didn't believe that the court set him free.
"No, no, nothing ever good happens to me," he recalled telling his lawyers. "I was convinced I would still die in prison."