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A former Missouri inmate has the support of the Senate's top leader

February 23, 2006
By: Meghan Maskery
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Former Missouri prison inmate Steve Toney plans to come before a legislative committee Monday night to ask for money for his imprisonment -- and he'll have the support of the Senate's top leader.

Toney, 59, will testify on behalf of a bill to change a state law that bars four former convicts from collecting from a fund set up to compensate the wrongfully convicted.

The bill -- sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Mike Gibbons, R-St. Louis County -- would allow the men who were exonerated by DNA evidence to get $50 for every day they spent in prison.

"If you are convicted wrongfully, it definitely wasn't you and you're not in jail for any other crime, then you were wronged," said Gibbons. "We need to make it right."

Toney said he left a Moberly prison in 1996 with $16 and a ride back to St. Louis from his attorney after DNA evidence proved he didn't commit the rape that kept him behind bars for 13 years and 10 months.

"They kicked me out the door and said good luck," Toney said. "There's no words to express how you feel," Toney said about wrongful imprisonment.

In 2004, former Gov. Bob Holden signed a law establishing a fund to compensate inmates exonerated through DNA evidence.

But, the fund exempted those released from prison before Aug. 28, 2003 and Toney got nothing. One man missed out on the compensation because he was released three days before the August date.

"It wasn't intended to be this way," said Gibbons."We need to fix it."

But Gibbons said that even if eligibility is changed, there wouldn't be any money because the only person to collect from the original fund bankrupted it for the next seven or eight years. Anthony D. Woods collected a lump sum of $328,500 in 2005 for 18 years of wrongful imprisonment.

Since then, collections have been capped at a maximum total of $36,500 per year until the total amount owed to the former inmate is paid.

Under the bill Gibbons has proposed, the money for the four exonerated men will come out of state funds provided to the Corrections Department rather than the special DNA fund.

"In those instances when an offender in our system has been exonerated it is only reasonable for those individuals to receive restitution," said department Spokesman Brian Hauswirth

Toney currently is unemployed, but said he has worked unskilled jobs for eight of the nine years since his release. He said his health has suffered from the stress and that he never had a chance to develop skills to help him find a good paying job.

"It's all about seeing justice done in my view," Toney said about the initiative.

The bill, which has won bipartisan support, is scheduled for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Monday night.

The repayments are expected to cost a total of $875,000.