The City of Newport, Kentucky, has given a record-breaking $28 million payout to a deceased man who spent over two decades in jail after being wrongly convicted of murder.
The agreement was reached after William Virgil filed a wrongful conviction case against the city and police in 2016. His civil trial was originally planned for 2021, but it was postponed to allow cops to file an appeal. Tragically, the exonerated guy died in January 2022, before the trial even began.
Virgil was convicted of murdering Retha Welch in 1988, however the evidence used against him in court was judged to be circumstantial. After being imprisoned for 28 years, he was eventually exonerated by Genetic evidence. The estate of the deceased Black man was given $1 million for each year he was wrongfully imprisoned.
Virgil’s attorney, Elliot Slosar, responded to the settlement by saying it was bittersweet. He explained that while they are delighted that Virgil’s family has received some justice through the settlement, they are disappointed that the exonerated guy was not present to witness it.
“William couldn’t live long enough to see justice,” said Slosar. “William as a human being and William’s case will have caused significant change in the criminal justice system.”
The attorney also said his deceased client’s case cast a spotlight on racial injustice, WCPO reported. “Officers went out of their way to bury evidence that implicated white suspects,” he said. “And that left them with the ability to prosecute a Black man for a crime he didn’t commit.”
Tom Fromme, who is Newport’s city manager, told the news outlet that they “strongly believe that the Newport Police Department’s actions and conduct were appropriate and professional.” Fromme also explained that they “felt it was prudent to settle this case due to the current climate of anti-police sentiment and that the case was over 35 years old.”
Slosar, however, said that “regardless of whatever statement the City of Newport puts out, certainly there isn’t a world where the Newport police officers that are on that force today are not going to learn lessons from how not to do things from this case.”
The attorney also said he feels there’s still a long way to go, adding that the criminal justice system lags when it comes to dealing with wrongful convictions. “The system prioritizes finality with verdicts much more than it does the truth and newly discovered evidence and William’s case is a tragic example of what happens when the system moves too slow,” Slosar said.
“Yeah, you know, things were fixed here. William was exonerated. But he only had six years left in his life.” The cities of Cincinnati and Norwood also partook in the investigation into Virgil’s case. A lawsuit filed against both cities is still pending.