Man wrongly convicted of sex attack on school girl is freed after 35 years

US

An innocent man who spent 35 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of sexually assaulting a school girl has been awarded more than £1m in compensation.

Louis Wright, now 65, was released earlier this month after DNA tests ruled him out as the perpetrator of the 1988 attack on the 11-year-old girl in Albion, Michigan.

Mr Wright became the prime suspect after an off-duty officer said he had seen him in the neighbourhood five hours earlier.

Police claimed he had confessed – but the interview was not recorded and he did not sign a confession, according to the Cooley Law School Innocence Project, which represented Mr Wright.

No identification procedures were conducted by police and the victim was never asked to identify Mr Wright, said the independent, non-profit law school, which has helped to free nine innocent people.

Mr Wright eventually pleaded no-contest to the charges and was jailed for between 25 and 50 years.

A request to withdraw his plea at sentencing was denied.

More on Michigan

But he was exonerated after DNA analysis established he was not responsible for the attack on the girl in September.

People who are exonerated based on new evidence are eligible for $50,000 (£39,000) for every year spent in a Michigan prison.

The attorney general’s office sometimes resists making payment – but quickly agreed to compensate Mr Wright.

He was awarded $1.75m (£1.37m) in a deal approved by a judge on Wednesday.

‘Nothing can make up for 35 years in prison’

Mr Wright told the AP news agency that he would probably use some of the money for a house and a vehicle for his sister, Darlene Hall.

His lawyer, Wolf Mueller, said in a statement: “Nothing can make up for 35 years in a Michigan prison for something he did not do.

“This is the first step toward getting Louis’s life back at the age of 65.”

Mr Wright was eligible for parole consideration on several occasions, starting in 2008.

But he refused to take a sex offender therapy class – a key condition for his release – and remained in prison until he was cleared by the DNA evidence.

Mr Mueller added: “[Mr Wright] said, ‘I didn’t do this crime. I’m not taking a therapy class’.

“He cost himself several years, just standing on principle.

“Not a lot of guys would do that.”

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But Mr Wright insisted he knew he would be cleared by the DNA evidence.

“I spent the last couple (of) months in prison with a smile on my face. Everyone thought I had something up my sleeve,” he said.

He has since been enjoying spending time with family and simple activities such as playing pool.

The Calhoun County prosecutor has now committed to reopening the investigation in a bid to establish the identity of the person responsible for the attack.

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