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Governor: Pay $1.1M to wrongly convicted man

(AP) A man who spent 29 years in prison for a crime that authorities say he didn’t commit could get $1.1 million from the state of Virginia, under a proposal state lawmakers will consider next session.

The $109 billion, two-year budget plan unveiled by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday includes restitution for Michael Kenneth McAlister, who was pardoned by McAuliffe in March after another man confessed to the 1986 abduction and attempted rape of a woman. A bill granting McAlister compensation must be approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

“Gov. McAuliffe was proud to pardon Mr. McAlister after he spent 29 years in jail for a crime he did not commit,” spokesman Brian Coy said in an email. “While nothing will replace the time Mr. McAlister lost, the governor hopes this funding enables him to get a fresh start in this next chapter of his life.”

McAlister, who was released from prison in May, said the proposed compensation is more than he had expected. The 59-year-old, who’s living with his sister, said that if it’s approved he would invest the money and build up his credit so that he can buy a house.

“I’m just slowly getting back my balance. It was a long time. It was rough,” he said in a phone interview on Friday. “Little by little, I’m getting my balance back and doing pretty good.”

Virginia law allows exonerated former inmates to collect an amount equal to 90 percent of per capita income for up to 20 years of wrongful imprisonment, which would come out to about $900,000.

But the General Assembly has previously waived the 20-year cap, as it did in 2012 when it awarded over $1 million to Thomas Haynesworth, who spent 27 years in prison for sexual assaults that he didn’t commit.

McAlister was convicted of the abduction and attempted rape of a woman who was dragged at knifepoint from an apartment complex laundry room in Richmond.

The victim identified McAlister as the attacker from a photo lineup that didn’t include a picture of serial rapist Norman Bruce Derr, who lived nearby and bore a strong resemblance to McAlister.

When McAlister was interviewed by detectives, he allowed them to take his picture wearing a plaid shirt similar to the one the attacker had worn, according to McAlister’s petition. He was the only person in the photo lineup wearing that type of shirt.

McAuliffe said in March there was “overwhelming evidence” that McAlister was innocent, including a recent confession by Derr, who’s serving three life sentences in prison.

A bill granting McAlister the compensation is being introduced by Democratic Del. Rip Sullivan, who said he’s hopeful that it will be approved by the General Assembly.

“Obviously we cannot right this wrong. We cannot give him his years back, but we can do everything we can,” Sullivan said.

— ALANNA DURKIN, Associated Press

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