Bill backed by Innocence Project would expand DNA searches to closed cases

by Mary Rupert

A bill was introduced in the Kansas Senate this week to expand DNA searches to closed cases.

The bill is supported by State Sen. David Haley, D-4th Dist., and human rights activist Alvin Sykes, as well as by the Innocence Project.

Law enforcement agencies frequently send DNA samples to laboratories for testing, and the labs report back the results with DNA matches in the combined DNA index system.

Currently, according to the bill’s supporters, after a person is convicted, the case is closed. When DNA tests are run, the search passes over closed cases and looks for an open case to compare. But if the search includes closed cases, sometimes a match can be made where another person has already been convicted, according to the bill’s supporters, which raises questions about whether the right person is in prison.

If closed cases are excluded from the DNA searches, information that might exonerate individuals can be missed, according to supporters of the bill. A proposed change to the law would mandate notification for both closed and open cases.

Sen. David Haley

“At the end of the day, we in the legal community just want to ensure that the true perpetrators are doing the time, and that innocent people are not,” Sen. Haley said. “It’s a simple concept. Public safety is not enhanced if someone is getting away with a crime and someone else is convicted of a crime they didn’t commit.”

Sen. Haley is a member of the Judiciary Committee, which introduced the bill.

The bill also calls for authorities to share this data from both solved and unsolved cases with the prosecutors’ offices, the original defense attorney and the last known attorney of record, crime victims, surviving relatives and a local organization that litigates claims of innocence.

The bill calls for a closed case task force to develop protocols for a process to be implemented. The proposed task force would include legislators, governor’s office, attorney general, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, indigents’ defense service, attorneys, victim services, and innocence organization litigators. The task force would submit its report by Dec. 1, 2020, under the proposed bill.

If Kansas passes the bill, it would be the first one in the country, according to supporters.

“It’s a great concept, it’s really common sense,” Sen. Haley said about the bill. “Kansas will be the first to implement it, and I suspect, once it’s passed, others will follow suit.”

Sen. Haley said he appreciated Alvin Sykes bringing this concept to him.

Alvin Sykes (File photo)

“When a sample of DNA is circulated nationwide seeking a matched identification it currently skips over ‘closed cases’ because somebody, possibly innocent, is already convicted for the crime and continues automatically searching ‘open’ unsolved cases for possible matches,” Alvin Sykes said in a statement.

“The Emmett Till Justice Campaign has joined forces with the Innocence Project to prove with this ‘first-in-the-nation’ legislation that if the lab results of the DNA hits are circulated amongst the prosecutors and defense attorneys associated with both ‘closed’ and ‘open’ cases we will systemically identify countless innocent people serving time for crimes they did not commit,” Sykes said in a written statement. “Kansas SB 102 was introduced as a ‘Committee of the Judiciary’ bill by courageous justice champion Kansas Sen. David Haley this week at my personal request based on research and model legislation drafted by the Innocence Project in New York. The Emmett Till Justice Campaign will keep on keeping on turning the poison coming out of Till’s murder in 1955 into the medicine of justice for countless victims of injustices, including the falsely convicted, into the infinite future. We strongly urge all justice seeking Americans to join us in support of Kansas Senate Bill 102 and all similar legislation when it rolls into your state in the future.”

Rebecca Brown, director of policy for the Innocence Project, is supporting the proposed legislation.

“The Innocence Project is thrilled to see Kansas take the lead on a critical innocence reform that will not only help to settle claims of innocence but also help to identify people who committed serious, violent crimes,” Brown said in a prepared statement. “An overlooked corner of our criminal justice system is the ‘black hole’ of ‘hits to closed cases,’ which – absent sound policymaking – will continue to enable miscarriages of justice. We are so grateful to Senator Haley for his leadership and longtime justice advocate Alvin Sykes for bringing attention to this needed area of reform. We are hopeful that Kansas will lead the nation in this important area of reform, demonstrating how stakeholders can work together to make sure our shared justice goals are realized.”

The bill, Senate Bill 102, introduced by the Senate Judiciary Committee, is online at

Governor signs bill to compensate wrongfully incarcerated

There were a lot of smiles today after Gov. Jeff Colyer signed a bill into law that would provide compensation to those who have been wrongfully incarcerated. The bill signing was at Mount Zion Church of God in Christ in Kansas City, Kansas. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)

by Mary Rupert

Gov. Jeff Colyer signed a bill today compensating individuals who had been wrongfully incarcerated, apologizing to two individuals who had been exonerated and giving them hugs.

The bill signing at Mount Zion Church of God in Christ in Kansas City, Kansas, included two persons who have been exonerated after serving time, Lamonte McIntyre and Floyd Bledsoe.

“Wow – I can’t tell you how excited I am about this,” Lamonte McIntyre, who was exonerated in 2017 after 23 years in prison, said at the bill signing. With help from the Midwest Innocence Project, Centurion Ministries and attorney Cheryl Pilate, he was exonerated of a 1994 double homicide in Kansas City, Kansas. “I’m happy today.”

The law provides a fresh start for those who were wrongfully imprisoned in Kansas. Previously, those who were exonerated in Kansas were not given any compensation for the years they spent in prison. McIntyre said this new law will help him and a lot of people who were wrongfully incarcerated. He added he hoped other states could catch on.

“I’m happy today,” said Lamonte McIntyre, who was exonerated after serving 23 years in prison. He posed for a photo after the bill signing today in Kansas City, Kansas. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)

“While nothing will ever get back the 16 years, the pain and the loss, but this morning, this is a great starting point,” Floyd Bledsoe, who was exonerated in 2015 after 16 years in prison, said. He was wrongfully convicted of a murder that took place in 2000. He was represented by the Midwest Innocence Project and the Paul Wilson Project for Innocence at KU School of Law.

A third Kansas person who spent 16 years in prison and was exonerated in 2017, Richard Jones, did not attend the bill signing. He was represented by the Midwest Innocence Project and Wilson Project for Innocence.

The new law is one of the strongest wrongful conviction compensation laws in America, according to Gov. Colyer. It gives $65,000 per year to those wrongfully imprisoned, plus $25,000 per year to those who wrongfully were placed on parole, probation or the sex offender registry. In addition housing, tuition assistance, social services, and state health care will be offered. Their convictions will be expunged. The bill also includes a provision for anyone who received a civil award or settlement to reimburse the state for the difference between the award and the state compensation.

“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” Gov. Colyer quoted from the Bible in his remarks, “and that is what we’re starting today.”

Gov. Jeff Colyer gave Lamonte McIntyre a copy of the bill that was signed into law today that will provide compensation for wrongfully incarcerated persons. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)

“Today is a momentous day for justice here in Kansas,” he said. When mistakes are made, which is rare, he said, it is their responsibility to do whatever they can to make things right.

“We believe in you, we apologize to you, we love you and we will make it right, and most important, thank you for what you are doing for all Kansans,” Gov. Colyer said to McIntyre and Bledsoe.

“Today we take a step back towards justice,” he said. The years taken cannot be given back, but the bill will make a large step to right wrongs, he said.

State Sen. David Haley, D-4th Dist., had introduced a wrongful compensation bill for about 10 years in the state Legislature before a bill on the subject passed this past session. Alvin Sykes, a human rights activist from Kansas City, Kansas, originally asked Sen. Haley to introduce the legislation.

Sen. Haley said that under the new law, these individuals who were wrongfully incarcerated would finally receive a portion of the liberty, their life that was stolen.

As many as 8 percent of those who are in prison are estimated to be wrongfully incarcerated, according to State Sen. David Haley, D-4th Dist., who had introduced a bill for compensation for about 10 years in the Legislature. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)

He said some estimates are that 8 percent of people currently incarcerated in America are there for crimes they did not commit. That could be as many as 800 in Kansas, he believes.

“It could be the waking nightmare for any of us,” he said.

“We have more work to do,” Sen. Haley said. “This bill is a baby step,” he said, but it was a glad occasion.

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, who introduced the bipartisan bill on the floor this past year, said legislators worked longer with the bill to improve it. While the bill cannot give individuals back the days and years they lost, it does give them compensation for the time in prison, education, health care, financial literacy training, assistance for housing, and social services.

“We as a state of Kansas owe this to them,” she said. Also important is the expungement of records, she said.

“I am proud to be here, I am sorry that we can never replace those hours, days and years that they lost,” Sen. Baumgardner said. “The judiciary process needs to look at themselves in the mirror.”

She said law enforcement, if they have perjured or been part of the wrongful conviction, it’s time for district and county attorneys to take action to address those who have wronged individuals. Her hope is that in the future, Kansas never has another individual that needs to take advantage of this bill, she said.

Michelle Feldman, with the Innocence Project, said Kansas is the 33rd state to pass a wrongful conviction compensation bill.

“They did it right,” she said. “This bill is totally the best of everything that other states have done.”

She said she hopes other states update their laws to match this bill.

“This is going to provide the financial assistance they need to restore what was taken from them,” she said.

State Sen. Pat Pettey, D-6th Dist., who served on the Judiciary Committee, attended the bill signing.

“I’m glad the governor made the wise decision to come to Wyandotte County to sign this bill,” Sen. Pettey said. “It really is a bipartisan bill that recognizes those wrongfully incarcerated, and helps them get back to their lives.”

The two individuals present at the bill signing who were wrongfully incarcerated had almost 40 years between them that were spent in prison, she remarked.

Sen. Haley and Sykes also favor a provision that was not included in the bill, that would have required anyone who knowingly caused innocent people to be wrongfully incarcerated to be financially liable. That provision was not included in the final bill.

Sen. Pettey said a lot of legislative work went into the financial compensation, education and social services that were needed. The bill was narrowly focused so that it could pass, according to Sen. Pettey, and another bill on personal financial responsibility might be offered in the future.

Alvin Sykes, a human rights activist, said this is a “tremendous achievement.”

“Ten years ago, it was pretty lonely when we started on this journey, but I knew this day would come,” Sykes said.

Now, he said he will turn his attention to trying to help find whoever committed the crimes that McIntyre was exonerated of, he said.

Alice Craig, an attorney working through the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence at KU, said she hoped the new law would be a model for other states. She noted that one person recently exonerated in Missouri would not be compensated under the law there, because the Missouri law was for exonerations involving DNA.

She also said the three persons exonerated in Kansas have been advocating for others in a similar situation, trying to assist them.

Unified Government Commissioner Harold Johnson also attended the bill signing.

“This is far too long in coming, and we’re glad the day has come,” he said. Everyone deserves another chance, he said. He added there is a need to continue to work with those who have been wrongfully incarcerated to help them re-enter society. There also is a need to work with the district attorney’s office to make sure those who were wrongfully incarcerated are set free, and to make sure in the future the innocent never have to serve a day of jail time at all.

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Floyd Bledsoe, left, who was exonerated in 2015 after spending about 16 years in prison, received a pen from Gov. Jeff Colyer in the compensation bill signing today. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)

Abandoned housing bill vetoed

Last week, Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed a bill that would have made it easier for the Unified Government and other local governments to gain control of abandoned houses and give them to nonprofit agencies for rehabilitation.

The bill had split the Wyandotte County legislative delegation, with Rep. Stan Frownfelter, D-37th Dist., supporting it, and Sen. David Haley, D-4th DIst., opposing it. In debate in the Kansas House, many urban minority legislators joined opposition against the bill, which they said would have affected urban minority areas more than other areas.

In a veto message last week, Gov. Brownback stated that he was defending the principles of individual liberty and private property rights.

The governor issued the following statement:

“Government should protect property rights and ensure the less advantaged are not denied the liberty to which every citizen is entitled. Governmental authority to take property from one private citizen and give it to another private citizen should be limited, but this bill would have the effect of expanding such authority without adequate safeguards. The potential for abuse of this new statutory process cannot be ignored.”

Sen. Haley said that he believes owning real property is a right. While the government can deprive property owners of the right to own property for certain reasons, they should not be flimsy reasons, he said. There were already enough opportunities for the government to take real property, usually through means such as code enforcement, he said.

The governor’s veto statement is at this web address:

To see earlier stories on this subject, visit