The Texas Senate today passed a bill that would finally compensate Anthony Graves for the 18 years he spent behind bars convicted of grisly murders he did not commit.

Graves was released from jail in October, and the state owes him more than $1 million, according to his lawyers and to staff members for state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. Graves sued the state earlier this year to officially clear his name and to force the Texas comptroller to pay him for the time he was wrongfully imprisoned. Ellis sponsored HB417 by state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, which would enact official guidelines by which exonerees can obtain financial compensation. It now goes back to the House for approval of the Senate's changes.

Under the Timothy Cole Compensation Act, inmates who are freed from jail after being found innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted are entitled to $80,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment, plus a lifetime annuity. Graves filed a claim with Texas Comptroller Susan Combs after he was released, but she denied it, saying the order releasing Graves did not have the correct wording to entitle him to compensation.

If the bill becomes law, Graves would get compensation through a measure Ellis added that doesn’t mention the former prisoner by name, but narrows the scope of eligibility enough to include him and potentially exclude other exonerees with weaker claims. Under the bill, exonerees would also be eligible for health insurance provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

In addition to the compensation, Ellis said the bill was necessary to “put a spotlight” on some attorneys who have charged exonerees excessive fees to represent them in their compensation and wrongful conviction claims. The bill would require lawyers to charge "reasonable" fees and to report those fees to the Comptroller's office.

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