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D.C. to pay Tennessee man $16.65 million over wrongful conviction

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Matt York/AP/File

(Read caption) Donald Eugene Gates who was exonerated of rape and murder after 27 years behind bars, stands outside a bus terminal in Phoenix on Dec. 15, 2009.

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A man who spent 27 years behind bars for crimes he did not commit will receive $16.65 million from the District of Columbia as compensation for his wrongful imprisonment.

That’s about $617,000 for every year he spent in prison.

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Donald Eugene Gates, now 64, was convicted in 1982 of the rape and first-degree murder of 21-year-old Georgetown University student Catherine Schilling.

Mr. Gates was exonerated in 2009 after DNA evidence revealed he was not connected to the crime, and a temporary janitor at the building where Schilling worked was behind the murder. The janitor died a year before he was identified.

In 2010, Gates’s lawyers filed a civil lawsuit against the city and police alleging police misconduct.

Gates, who now lives in Tennessee, has already received more than $1 million from the federal government for its role in his conviction. The settlement with the city brings his total compensation to $18 million, the Associated Press reports.

On Wednesday, a federal jury found that two D.C. homicide detectives fabricated at least part of a confession from an informant and withheld evidence that led to Gates’s wrongful conviction for the 1981 rape and murder, according to The Washington Post,.

As he left the courtroom, Gates told reporters: “It feels like the God of the King James Bible is real, and he answered my prayers. Justice is on the way to being fulfilled ... It’s one of the happiest days of my life.”

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In the United States, laws governing compensation for wrongfully convicted people vary from state to state.  

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Only about one-third of the wrongfully convicted are compensated, according to estimates by the Innocence Project, a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals and reforming the criminal justice system.

While some states pay a fixed amount per year of imprisonment, at least 20 provide nothing.

 As The Christian Science Monitor previously reported,

Presently 20 states in the US have no compensation law, which means exonerees receive no money or services. The 30 states that do have one offer reparations that vary from a flat maximum of $20,000 total in New Hampshire to $80,000 per year spent wrongfully imprisoned in Texas. In Illinois, the wrongfully convicted need to apply for a certificate of innocence and re-prove their case to get financially compensated and expunge their records.

The Innocence Project reports that 72 percent of wrongful convictions involve eyewitness misidentification. Other notable contributors to wrongful convictions include improper forensics, false confessions, and informants who provide false information.

In 2013, the National Registry of Exonerations recorded a highest number of exonerations in the United States. The Registry recorded 87 known exonerations, a third of which were in cases which no crime in fact occurred.