Washington seeks Payback

Earl Washington, Jr. came within nine days of state-sanctioned death—now he’s looking for some compensation. Proceedings in a federal civil suit began in Charlottesville last week, pitting Washington against the estate of Curtis Lee Wilmore, the investigator who produced a false confession from Washington in 1983 for the rape and murder of Rebecca Lynn Williams. Washington’s lawyers charge that Wilmore violated questioning procedures by feeding their client details that led to a false confession.
“It’s hard to know the motive of the decedent,” says local attorney Steven Rosenfield, one of Washington’s lawyers. “But it was a false confession and he conveyed that false confession to the jury.”
Wilmore died in 1994, the same year that Washington’s death sentence was commuted to life by Governor Doug Wilder on his last day in office, based on DNA evidence that crime-scene semen was neither Washington’s nor the victim’s husband’s. In 2000, Washington was exonerated and released when DNA evidence further linked the crime to Kenneth Tinsley, currently serving time for serial rape.
“There simply was no physical evidence,” says Rosenfield. “It was all based on confession that Wilmore took, and even though Wilmore had tape recorded the interrogation of at least five other suspects, he didn’t tape record the interrogation of Earl Washington.”
Part of the reason Washington’s lawyers are targeting Wilmore is the State gave Washington absolutely no compensation for spending nine-and-a-half-years on death row, and because the State itself cannot be sued for civil rights cases. Rosenfield says the General Assembly awarded Edward Honaker, Troy Webb, Jeffrey
Cox, and Marvin Anderson $375,000 to $660,000 each after they spent many years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. Washington’s lawyers are not asking for a specific amount, leaving that decision to the jury.
Washington’s case for State compensation may have been muddied by a crime
he did commit. While drunk, Washington, who is mildly retarded, hit an elderly neighbor over the head with a chair and received a 30-year sentence; however, he would likely have gotten out after six years under parole guidelines.
“The death penalty is all about politics in Virginia, at every level, and has little to do with justice,” says Rosenfield.
The federal lawsuit is expected to wrap up by the end of this week.—Will Goldsmith

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