Georgia ready to pay freed inmate

ATLANTA - A man wrongly imprisoned nearly 25 years for rape is set to get a $1.2 million payback from the state.

Today, the Georgia House will consider paying Robert Clark that much in restitution for his time in prison for a 1981 attack before DNA evidence cleared his name two years ago.

The resolution, by Rep. Larry O'Neal, R-Warner Robins, says the Atlanta man's imprisonment "occurred through no fault or negligence on the part of Mr. Clark, and it is only fitting and proper that he be compensated for his loss."

The state Claims Advisory Board, the first panel to hear requests for restitution from the state, heard Mr. Clark's case last month and recommended that the Legislature pay him.

The board left the amount of restitution up to the Legislature. The $1.2 million is based on the income Mr. Clark lost while imprisoned, personal injury, injury to his reputation and other damages.

Mr. Clark, now 46, had no prior felony convictions. He was the 197th person nationally and the sixth person in Georgia to be cleared by DNA evidence of a criminal conviction, according to The Innocence Project, a New York-based group that works to overturn wrongful convictions.

Lisa George, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Innocence Project, said the $1.2 million check might sound like a lot but that when Mr. Clark's losses are considered, it's really not.

He was a 21-year-old house painter when he was arrested.

"If he'd just kept doing that from the day he was arrested to the day he got out of prison, his hard-dollar losses were over $1 million," Ms. George said.

Under the restitution plan, Mr. Clark will get monthly checks from the state over the next 15 years totaling about $80,000 per year. The checks will be subject to federal taxes.

Mr. O'Neal, who argued Mr. Clark's case before the claims board, invited him to attend the House vote today. Ms. George said Mr. Clark - who told the claims board he's been "struggling a little bit on and off" since his release in December 2005 - is now working a construction job but is trying to get time off to attend.

She said Mr. Clark has received a couple of job promotions since starting work last year and hopes to become a crane operator.

"His attitude has been great," said Ms. George, who said Mr. Clark still stops by the Innocence Project office for visits. "He'll be covered in concrete dust from head to toe, as filthy as he can be, and smiling just like the day he walked out of prison."