(AP) The General Assembly has approved more than $520,000 in compensation for Gary Linwood Bush, who served almost 11 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of two bank robberies.
On Feb. 20, the House unanimously joined the Senate in passing legislation to set aside $520,163 for Bush, who was cleared of the crimes last May. SB 1477 also allows Bush to receive up to $10,000 in career and technical training from the Virginia Community College System.
In a telephone interview with Capital News Service, Bush, 69, said the money could not make up for the decade he spent in prison for crimes he did not commit.
“It’ll never be enough,” said Bush, who resides in Covington in the western part of Virginia.
After two banks were robbed in 2006 in Petersburg and Prince George County, four eyewitnesses picked Bush out of a photo lineup and identified him as the perpetrator.
Bush had an alibi, and no physical evidence linked him to the bank robberies. Nevertheless, Bush was found guilty on both accounts in 2007 and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
In 2016, Christian Amos came forward and confessed to police that he had robbed the two banks. Amos provided telling details, and his handwriting matched the note used in one of the robberies, authorities said.
As a result, the Virginia Court of Appeals last year granted Bush two writs of actual innocence. By that point, he had spent almost 11 years of his 12-year sentence in the Virginia Department of Corrections.
“This is a case that sends a chill down the spine of every trial lawyer,” said Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, the chief sponsor of the legislation to compensate Bush.
“Even though we can’t give back the 11 years of his life that has been taken, this claims bill, using our typical formula, attempts to respond in some positive way.”
Under the bill, Bush must agree not to pursue any legal actions against any government agencies or employees in connection with his ordeal.
Then, within 60 days, Bush would receive 20 percent of the compensation — $104,033. The remainder would be used to purchase an annuity on his behalf, which will disperse the rest of the money to him in annual increments.
During the process of approving the money, lawmakers apologized to Bush.
“Mr. Bush, we extend our greatest apologies to you, and I know that the monetary compensation can’t replace those years, but that’s the best we can do,” Sen. Thomas Norment, R-James City, said during a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee.
The Innocence Project at the University of Virginia law school helped Bush and Deeds throughout the process.
“They were a great group of people,” Bush said. “They helped me do it, but if that man hadn’t stepped forward and gave himself up, I would never have been able to prove my innocence.”
Unaware that someone was serving time for his crimes, Amos called the Prince George County police on May 17, 2016, and admitted his involvement in three bank robberies, including the two Bush was convicted of in 2007.
Amos’ sudden honesty came after a conversation with his grandson, according to the Nation Registry of Exonerations.
The boy had been accused of breaking some windows. Initially, he denied it — but then fessed up.
“Amos said that he was proud of his grandson for admitting what he did, but he also was stricken by the fact that he had committed three bank robberies and had not been caught,” according to the registry, which was created by several law schools. “Amos said he was confessing out of a crisis of conscience.”
Though Bush is no longer in prison, he said that the system is not doing enough to prevent innocent people from being convicted of crimes.
“To be honest with you, there are police officers out there that their only thing that they want to do is get a conviction. It doesn’t matter what they say or do, how they go about railroading a person or anything like that. All they want is that conviction,” Bush said.
“Whenever you deal with the lawyers on both sides, it’s not a matter of whether you’re innocent or not. It’s a matter of ‘I won or you won.'”
-ALEXANDRA ZERNIK, Capital News Service
This story was produced by the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Capital News Service.