Wrongfully convicted Connecticut man awarded $6 million compensation

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Wrongfully convicted Connecticut man awarded $6 million compensation
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)
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(Reuters) - A Connecticut man who spent 21 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of rape and murder was awarded $6 million on Thursday in the first such payout by the state.

Kenneth Ireland, who was found guilty at age 18 of raping and murdering a woman, was released in 2009 after DNA tests exonerated him.

The tests led instead to the conviction of Kevin Benefield, who had known the victim, Barbara Pelkey. Benefield was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Ireland, now 44, said on Thursday through the office of his attorney, William Bloss, that the payment "ensures my security and affords me some room to explore the world and see things I've missed."

"It still hasn't completely registered yet," he said. "I'm still trying to wrap my head around it all."

It is the first-ever award made by the state's Office of the Claims Commissioner since such compensation was approved in 2008 by the state legislature.

"He experienced 21 years of violence, sleepless nights and the constant fear and hopelessness that he would die in prison as an innocent man," Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance wrote in a report.

"I offer my sincerest apologies to Mr. Ireland for the burden that he was forced to suffer and I wish him the best of luck," Vance wrote.

Governor Dannel Malloy, who has appointed Ireland to the state Parole Board, in a statement said he "is not only without bitterness, but is incredibly thoughtful, insightful and committed to public safety and service." (Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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