A Texas man who was imprisoned for 24 years and then acquitted after DNA tests proved his innocence has been sued by his ex-wife for a share of the compensation money.
Steven Phillips was convicted of a series of sexual assaults in two trials in 1982 and 1983. He served 24 years in prison before DNA tests proved another man had committed the crimes and in August 2009 he was finally released. The former roofer was awarded compensation worth almost $6 million, including a lump sum of more than two million and monthly payments of $11,000, as well as various health and education benefits.
Former wife Traci Tucker then sued him a share of the money, claiming she was entitled to compensation for the wages lost during his incarceration. She told newspaper The Texas Tribune:
“He was a victim of a wrongful justice system, and his family was also.”
“To me, marriage was for life, and I was going to be with him forever, and we were going to get through this — or so I thought.”
Tucker, then expecting the couple’s first child, provided her then husband with an alibi at his trial and later visited him regularly in prison she claims. They eventually divorced in 1992 – reportedly at his insistence They had “grown apart” and he wanted her to move on.
Last year Tucker was awarded $150,000 by DallasCounty judge. He appealed the case is now expected to go to the Texas Supreme Court – reportedly the first such legal battle in the US. He argues that the compensation money he received was not for lost wages, but payment for wrongful imprisonment, as defined by the Tim Cole Act, which specifies a payment of $160,000 per year for every year spent in jail. In addition, he claims the compensation money should be regarded as martial property subject to division because he did not become eligible for it until well after their divorce.
He claims to bear no ill-will towards his ex-wife but says:
“To make a claim on those years I spent in prison is really freaking outrageous.”
But Tucker, who remembers describes her husband before his conviction as “a brilliant guy”, insists that the spouses of people wrongfully get a raw deal from the state and deserve recognition.
“It’s not all about the money. There’s just no recognition whatsoever. Just ‘sorry folks, sorry we ruined your life and took your provider and your best friend.’ Nothing.”
Photo of the Supreme Court of Texas building by WhisperToMe via Wikipedia