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Man wrongly imprisoned seeks millions from state


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."

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d1anaw July 29 2014 at 3:41 PM

I hope that he wins. What if he had been killed by the death penalty zealots? This might make them look twice at being very sure they are convicting the right person.

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1 reply
JUST A DUDE d1anaw July 29 2014 at 7:07 PM

Countless African-Americans' have suffered this same fate, many were executed. Those set free by DNA, the states recinded the compensation laws. "Get over it"! They were told

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2 replies
grgblnk1 JUST A DUDE July 29 2014 at 7:10 PM


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dredselw JUST A DUDE July 29 2014 at 8:49 PM

One example please!

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Connie July 29 2014 at 4:29 PM

MeritaBread your an idiot ! For the hell he went through in prison 8 million doesn't come close to what they owe him.He was young when he went to prison you don't know what he could have done with his life, he might have been president. You shpuld go spend a week in prison and then talk.

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1 reply
MeritaBread Connie July 29 2014 at 10:19 PM

Connie, the only idiot here is YOU you dumbazz beotch! So much for civil discourse! Go somewhere and learn some proper English grammar and composition! The state owes him NOTHING! He was duly convicted based on the evidence available at the time. It is unfortunate that he was convicted for a crime that DNA evidence now proves that he did not commit. That does not mean, however, that the taxpayers must now make him filthy rich. That is why I said that any compensation should be fair and based on his potential earnings from the time of his arrest forward to his release. Probability was, he would not have been president. There is absolutely no evidence of any such potential. Be realistic. I don't have to spend any time in prison to be able to talk sensibly. You, however, DO need to spend some time in a remedial English classroom! You could also use a few lessons on courtesy and respect!

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3 replies
cowboy July 29 2014 at 4:36 PM

The Prosecutor and D.A. should pay every red cent for dereliction of duty. Scumbags in my eye's. So They got their numbers, now fry the azzhole's. I am a law abiding citizen, These people are politicians. Fry them.

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3 replies
dee lightner July 29 2014 at 3:40 PM

I hope he wins the money for his wrongful imprisonment. AND I hope the courts award him EXTRA money to pay his legal expenses!!! No lawyer should take half his money.

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njenel July 29 2014 at 3:56 PM

1 million for each year, calculated at the first 24 hrs of the sucessive years ,as a full year! 8 million only pays him for 8 years. anyone who does not agree with that can serve the unpaid time !

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don July 29 2014 at 4:20 PM

Yes, it is true that Kenneth Ireland may have only earned One Million dollars in a life time of work, as one commenter has stated, however, not only did the State of Connecticut wrongfully convict him, he spent 21 years living in a place he should never have been to begin with and his FREEDOM was taken away for those 21 years as well. And even though he is a FREE man he has to learn a skill and then at age 43 or 45 go into the market place of that skill and get a job. Even though a FREE man many employers will not want to hire him. The bottom line is: WHAT PRICE DO WE PUT ON FREEDOM ?

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2 replies
edny.ed don July 29 2014 at 4:29 PM

Yes. He was 18. Dating, love, marriage , children. Family weddings, funerals, Christmas, etc. all the things that give joy to life stolen.

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albyond don July 29 2014 at 9:19 PM

He could easily made 2 million in 20 years. I only have a high school education and I did. The rest is for pain and suffering. There will never be enough to make up for time lost with love ones.

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jdm61cc July 29 2014 at 4:21 PM

I am puzzled. Why has it taken 5 years for this commission to hear this case? The article says that it is the first case of its kind that the commission has heard so tis not like they were working through a backlog. Was there no corurt that could have heard his case in 2009-10? Why did this poor guy have to wait another 5 years while the very people who screwed him over took their time putting together the commission that will have to decide what he gets paid?

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1 reply
wilmaflintstone jdm61cc July 29 2014 at 5:12 PM

Government Red tape, that is why. Disgusting.

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MeritaBread July 29 2014 at 3:40 PM

Compensation, yes, but it should be fair. Most likely, Ireland would have made far less than a million dollars in his lifetime up til now had it not been interrupted by the imprisonment. Was he duly convicted? Was there prosecutorial misconduct leading to his conviction? DNA is a wonderful thing, but it was not available back in 1989, and certainly not to the level and degree of accuracy it is available today. Look at Ireland's grades in high school and his college potential. What direction was his life taking before his arrest, conviction, and incarceration? How did he use his time during his incarceration? Did he take advantage of the resources available? All those things should be taken into consideration when determining how much he "should" be compensated. Factor in also that he is still fairly young. Thus, he can still get a college degree or be trained in a skill. He can still marry, have a family, and see them grow up, etc. The state didn't intentionally do him harm

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12 replies
classickbass July 29 2014 at 8:05 PM

And what about those involved in him being sent to prison? The DA, the judge, the jurors, what about them? Make them pay him a percentage of their income for 21 years.

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Bill July 29 2014 at 8:00 PM

jdm64cc, Ill tell you why it took so long to hear hs case. First, they had to make sure the chief of Gestapo was retired and living comfortably and could not be harmed, then they had to make sure the DA was retired and living comfortably and could not be harmed. Then, the main reason, MONEY. They make money of each and every body they have in a cell. Our whole prison system is about nothing but money. Its not about rehabilitating anyone, its about demeaning them and abusing them and making them so angry that they have no choice but to fail again and return so the prisons can make more MONEY. Prisoners are their business not society. They can take anyone and make them a criminal that way they can make more MONEY. MONEY MONEY MONEY MONEY MONEY.......

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1 reply
mssheralot Bill July 30 2014 at 4:24 AM

You are correct. Prison's have become a lucrative business, and someone is pocketing all that money. Don't people realize when they start to run out of real criminals, what will they do then?, Make criminals out of law abiding citizens so they can continue to make money.

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