Society

Oklahoma Man Gets $175,000 After Wrongful Conviction

| by Erik Kindel

Thomas Webb III, an Oklahoma man who spent 13 years in jail after being wrongfully convicted of rape, will finally receive some recompense for his nightmare behind bars.

After years of negotiations, the state has agreed to pay Thomas the maximum amount Oklahoma law allows people to collect after a wrongful conviction. For his 13 years of wrongful incarceration, he will receive $175,000.

After suffering for 13 years -- denied the potential earnings from years of productive life, separated from family, friends and the wife he married while in prison, and robbed of the time he'll never get back -- justice has finally been awarded. His time in jail put innumerable strains on his marriage, and the psychological trauma he experienced caused him to turn to drugs after he was released.

Though the state of Oklahoma owes Thomas more than what he will ever receive, Webb is just glad this is over.

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"For the first time, the state of Oklahoma has accepted the fact that I have been wronged, " said Webb, 56, March 8 to NBC News. By paying Webb, Oklahoma is acknowledging its mistakes. "That gives me closure, a feeling that justice, in my frame of reference, has been done, that amends have been made."

Webb was convicted in 1983 of the rape of a University of Oklahoma student, and then exonerated in 1996 by DNA evidence. After his release, he was denied any compensation for his time spent behind bars. Oklahoma didn't award any money at the time. Many states still don't pay for wrongful convictions.

After his exoneration, he found a good job, joined his wife and then spearheaded his appeal, and looked to pick up on living where he had left off 13 years prior. But he began to drink heavily to deal with the trauma and pain.

He and his wife, Gail, lobbied for changes to the state Tort Claims Act to allow people like Thomas to receive compensation. The state resisted until 2003, when a new administration finally acquiesced, but capped payments at $175,000. When Webb initially applied, he was denied.

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The denial caused Webb much distress, who turned to drugs and was divorced by his wife. But after finding strength in an apology from his accuser, he recovered, sought a lawyer, and began petitioning for the state to reconsider his case. The state Attorney General at the time, Scott Pruitt, refused to respond.

But after Pruitt was chosen by the Trump administration to head the EPA, his replacement heard Webb's case and confirmed it.

Now all Webb has to do is wait for the judge to approve the agreement and receive his check in the mail.

Though the money doesn't come close to making up for his wrongful conviction and decade behind bars, he plans to use the money to repay his wife for her help and continue to live the life he was denied.

Sources: NBC News, (2), Oklahoma Innocence Project / Photo credit: Jennifer Weiss/NBC News

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