Between A Vacated Sentence and ‘Actual Innocence,’ A Houston Man Remains In Limbo

Alfred Brown was released after his death sentence was vacated. Now he’s fighting for compensation for his time in prison.

By Jill AmentDecember 28, 2017 11:17 am|

Innocent until proven guilty is a core principle of the U.S. legal system. But what happens when you’re no longer considered guilty, but have not yet proven innocent? That’s just one factor in a complicated case in Houston.

Alfred Brown was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. The case, including the death sentence, was vacated in 2015 when evidence that supported Brown’s claim of innocence was found and reviewed. Now, Brown is seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction and the time he was imprisoned. Because he has been released, but not declared innocent, he is suing Harris County.

Keri Blakinger, a reporter covering the story for the Houston Chronicle, says there’s a difference under the law between having a sentence vacated, and being declared innocent of a crime.

“At no point did the district attorney declare him ‘actually innocent.’ And that’s what’s necessary in order to trigger being able to get money under this statute,” Blakinger says.

The compensation law entitles a wrongly convicted person to receive around $80,000 for each year of imprisonment, plus an annuity thereafter. In Brown’s case, that could add up to $2 million, Blakinger says.

Harris County wants Brown’s lawsuit dismissed. They claim it was not filed within the allowed timeframe, but the applicable timeline is disputed by Brown.

His attorneys say Brown’s case is an example of the county’s “conviction at any cost” attitude. Blakinger says one of the prosecutors in the case is accused of pressuring witnesses to change their testimony in order to convict Brown.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.