The state of Connecticut has awarded $6 million to a man who was wrongfully imprisoned for 21 years for the rape and murder of a mother of four.
Kenneth Ireland, 44, thought he was going to die in prison an innocent man. He was charged with the murder and rape of Barbara Pelkey, 30, in Wallingford at the age of 18. He was released in 2009 after the Connecticut Innocence Project reviewed his case and DNA tests proved another man, Kevin Benefield, was responsible.
Ireland described his experience in prison during the state’s hearing to decide his compensation.
“Not one moment in my entire 21 years did I not have fear,” Ireland told NBC Connecticut in 2012. “You’d look up and there’d be 30 inmates, and everyone would have a sharpened piece of steel and they would just start stabbing other inmates.”
Claims commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr. announced on Thursday how the state had decided to compensate Ireland: “For loss of liberty and enjoyment of life, $2.5 million; loss of earnings and earning capacity, $1.5 million; loss of reputation, $300,000; physical and mental injuries, $1.5 million; costs and expenses, $200,000."
Under Connecticut’s wrongful incarceration compensation law, Ireland was awarded a total of $6 million. He is the first recipient of that statute since it was passed in 2008.
“No words or dollar amount will suffice to give him back the time that he lost and the misery that he endured,” Vance said in a report. “Mr. Ireland was wrongfully convicted and was labeled a murderer and sex offender and was forced to spend a long portion of his life in maximum security prisons.
“He experienced 21 years of violence, sleepless nights and the constant fear and hopelessness that he would die in prison as an innocent man.”
But that’s not the only compensation Ireland received. In October, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy gave him a paid position on the state parole board, a job with an annual salary of $92,500.
“Kenneth Ireland is a man of extraordinary character who endured the unimaginable pain of two decades of wrongful incarceration, and yet is not only without bitterness, but is incredibly thoughtful, insightful and committed to public safety and service,” Malloy said in a statement.
Ireland said he was “extremely pleased” with the compensation and “thankful for the work and the thoughtfulness of the state and the claims commissioner.”
“You can’t replace those years, but I’ve gotten beyond that and I’m looking forward to the future,” Ireland added. “I’m not a live-in-the-past kind of guy. This ensures my security and affords me a little bit of room to explore the world and become familiar with and see things I’ve missed.”
Ireland said he has no definitive plans for the money, but he is considering traveling to both Europe and Australia.
Meanwhile, Benefield, the man who was found responsible for Pelkey’s death, is serving a 60-year prison sentence.