The jubilation is palpable now that Kansas is about to become the 33rd state to offer compensation to people who serve time for crimes they did not commit.
Assuming Gov. Jeff Colyer signs legislation passed this week, Kansas will pay $65,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment.
Reaching this point required perseverance, years of lobbying by advocates, painstaking legal work by attorneys and the moving testimony of three men who languished for years in prison, desperately trying to get someone to believe in their innocence.
The Kansas legislation was lauded as “gold star” by a national expert with the Innocence Project. It includes health care and education benefits and avoids convoluted processes that have complicated compensation in other states.
And yet, this juncture is not justice. That will come only when the people responsible for these wrongful convictions are held accountable in the cases of Lamonte McIntyre, Floyd Bledsoe and Richard Jones.
Efforts are moving forward slowly. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation has initiated a preliminary review to determine if a criminal case can begin in the wrongful conviction of McIntyre, who served 23 years for a double murder in Kansas City, Kan.
The tale of how a then-17-year-old McIntyre wound up convicted, despite overwhelming evidence that he had nothing to do with the murders, involves chilling allegations of police corruption, a prosecutor’s intimidation tactics and an ethically compromised judge.
Roger Golubski was an officer for more than 30 years before joining the Edwardsville Police Department. In affidavits filed in pursuit of a new trial, Golubski is accused of using his badge to harass citizens, colluding with known drug dealers and retaliating when African-American women rebuffed his sexual advances.
Also implicated is Wyandotte County District Judge J. Dexter Burdette, who had a previously undisclosed romantic relationship with the prosecutor in the case. Terra Morehead, now a U.S. attorney, is believed to have disregarded witness testimony that would have exonerated McIntyre shortly after he was arrested.
Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark A. Dupree Sr. turned over initial case documents describing the nature of the accusations against Golubski to the KBI in February, according to a bureau spokeswoman.
It took Dupree seven months to put the file together and involved traveling to several state prisons for interviews and combing through 20-year-old files. The work was complicated by the fact that the office does not yet have a conviction integrity unit that would reexamine questionable cases. Dupree is seeking the budget necessary to staff such a unit.
News that his case is being investigated was a relief to McIntyre. “Once they start digging, I know what will happen,” he said. “They will find all the mud and dirt.”
Indeed, corruption and malfeasance like the allegations swirling around Golubski do not exist in a vacuum.
Wyandotte County, with the help of the KBI, is embarking on what may become a protracted, extremely complicated hunt to separate fact from fiction. Some believe the investigative heft of the U.S. Department of Justice will be necessary.
If federal resources are required, that assistance should be welcomed.
The damage that wrongful convictions do to the justice system cannot be overestimated. Public trust will be restored by a thorough investigation, charges if warranted and by holding those responsible legally accountable.
Because we now know, the wrong people went to prison.