Innocent Man Finds Freedom and Poverty
Arthur Whitfield could use some money. He served almost 22 years in prison for two rapes that occurred in Norfolk's Ghent neighborhood. DNA testing recently ruled out his involvement. As is common, his wrongful conviction resulted from the victim's mistaken identification.
Whitfield's freedom is largely attributable to two government employees who deserve praise for doing their jobs well.
Mary Jane Burton, a state forensic lab analyst who has since died, preserved biological evidence, including Whitfield's, at a time when it was not required. And Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney Jack Doyle pursued Whitfield's freedom as soon as the DNA tests in 2004 showed he was innocent. Doyle, now a judge, petitioned the state parole board for Whitfield's immediate release. In April, three months ago, Gov. Tim Kaine pardoned Whitfield.
Whitfield's lawyer applied for a $15,000 transition grant so that Whitfield could begin putting his life together while the Virginia legislature decides how much compensation he deserves for his wrongful incarceration. It turns out that Whitfield faces a classic Catch-22.
Absurdly, the law says such grants can be given only to people still in prison, a condition that essentially requires Virginia to keep innocent people behind bars.
So Whitfield is struggling.
Whitfield now has a job but no car. The gas and water in his apartment have been turned off because he couldn't pay the bills.
In prison, Whitfield at least had access to running water and regular meals. How ironic is it that he regained his freedom only to live as a pauper?
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