By DINESH RAMDE
MILWAUKEE (AP) – A Milwaukee man wrongly convicted for a homicide later linked to a serial killer will get $25,000 from the state for the six years he spent in prison, but a Middleton man whose attempted sex assault conviction was overturned was denied compensation.
The Wisconsin Claims Board said late Thursday it would compensate William Avery, who was cleared by DNA evidence two years ago in the murder of a prostitute. But the board denied a similar request from Forest Shomberg, who also spent six years in prison, saying he didn’t show “clear and convincing evidence” of his innocence as required by state law.
State law limits the board to awarding a maximum of $25,000 for those wrongly imprisoned, or $5,000 a year. The board can ask the Legislature for more money in specific cases, but the panel said it wouldn’t ask lawmakers to give more money to Avery.
Avery said Friday that the money would be a small consolation. The 41-year-old said he lives with his grandmother because he has nowhere else to go.
“We only get to live once. Ain’t nothing going to be able to replace that,” Avery told The Associated Press, adding that no amount of punitive damages would be enough to repair him or his children.
“They got this stereotype of me, this ugly picture being painted of me, and I see how it’s affected our relationship,” he said.
Avery was wrongfully convicted of strangling a prostitute in 1998. He was cleared in 2010 after DNA evidence matched another man who later pleaded no contest to killing seven women over a 21-year period. Avery had asked the board, which heard his case earlier this month, for $30,000.
Avery was first convicted of drug dealing and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Then in 2004, he was charged in Maryetta Griffin’s death after three prison inmates said they heard him confess to the killing.
Avery maintained his innocence throughout the trial but was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
In 2010, DNA tests were done on evidence recovered from the crime scene. The results matched Walter Ellis, who was later convicted of killing Griffin and six other women. And two of the inmates who had testified against Avery said police coerced them to do so.
“I’m just happy for him that we got his name cleared and that he didn’t do anything wrong to harm anybody,” said his son, William Avery Jr. “We feel blessed.”
His father said he hopes to use the money for housing expenses but feared the state would take it for unpaid child support.
“It’s like everything they do, it’s to hinder me,” he said. “It’s by the grace of god that I’m still here, trying to enjoy this second half of life.”
Shomberg, 48, was sentenced to prison after a sexual-assault victim and an eyewitness identified him as the man who dragged the college student into an alley and groped her crotch.
Shomberg’s conviction was tossed after DNA tests on the woman’s pantyhose excluded him as a suspect. His attorneys also pointed out emerging studies that raised concerns about eyewitness misidentification.
A judge overturned his conviction, saying Shomberg had met the legal standard to warrant a new trial. But prosecutors in Dane County declined to retry the case and the charges were dismissed.
Shomberg asked the claims board for $102,500 – $30,000 for his six years of incarceration and $77,500 for legal fees. But the board denied his claim, saying he hadn’t provided evidence of his innocence. The board also heard his case earlier this month.
A working telephone number for Shomberg couldn’t be found Friday, and a message left with his defense attorney wasn’t immediately returned.
The Dane County district attorney’s office had recommended that Shomberg’s claim be denied, arguing that the judge’s decision to order a new trial was different from saying Shomberg had proved his innocence. The office also said it didn’t retry the case because prosecutors are obligated to pursue only those cases they’re confident they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.