n The governor signed a bill that allows compensation for wrongful imprisonment.

By Patsy R. Brumfield

Daily Journal

WEST POINT - Nineteen-year-old Tyler Edmonds is eligible for $200,000, thanks to legislation signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Haley Barbour.

The bill allows a person to receive $50,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment, up to a maximum of $500,000. The law takes effect July 1.

"I'm happy to see it happen," said Sen. Gray Tollison of Oxford, the principal author of the wrongful imprisonment bill.

Edmonds was almost 14 in May 2003 when he was arrested and jailed in Oktibbeha County, accused in the shooting death of his stepsister's husband, Joey Fulgham.

After a 2004 trial, he was sentenced to life in prison.

But the Mississippi Supreme Court ordered a new trial for him in January 2007 and he was freed on bond four months later.

The new trial, with a jury from Attala County, ended with his acquittal Nov. 1, 2008.

Edmonds said news of the bill's signing is bittersweet for him.

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"It's good, I'm glad he signed it," he said Tuesday. "But money won't ever replace what I lost."

He said he's likely to use some of the funds to pay bills, especially "since we spent so much on attorney fees" during his legal fight.

Tollison said that while he was skeptical at first about the bill's prospects, many lawmakers saw the situation differently in the 2009 session after revelations a year ago that two Noxubee County men had been imprisoned for more than a decade for murders that DNA evidence proved they did not commit.

"People looked at those cases and said, 'That's just wrong, and it's the least we can do as a state,'" Tollison noted.

He credited the Innocence Project, based at the University of Mississippi, its director Tucker Carrington, Jackson attorney Rob McDuff and author John Grisham, among others, for shining the light on these instances of injustice.

"I'm glad he did it," said Edmonds' attorney, Jim Waide of Tupelo, referring to Barbour's signature. "But frankly, it's mighty late coming."

The compensation must be sought within three years after a pardon or overturned conviction. Tollison said claims must be made to the court where the conviction occurred.

Recently, Edmonds and his mother filed a federal lawsuit against Oktibbeha County seeking damages for their alleged pain and suffering from his experience.

In the complaint, Waide wrote that they intended to seek state payment if the wrongful imprisonment bill became law.

Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com.

Patsy Brumfield

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