Fort Lauderdale man to get $179,000 under new law

FORT LAUDERDALE — A Fort Lauderdale man who spent three years and seven months in prison for a robbery he didn’t commit will become the first wrongfully convicted person to receive compensation under a new Florida law.

Leroy McGee, 42, plans to sign legal papers today that will allow him to start receiving $179,000 under the state’s Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act. The father of five is the first to apply for and receive compensation — $50,000 for every year unjustly spent in prison — under the law that took effect in July 2008.

McGee became eligible for the money in July 2009 but had refused to sign all the paperwork. His reluctance stemmed from the state’s refusal to pay the legal costs he racked up in his fight for compensation. He said he feared that if the state refuses to cover such costs, other wrongfully convicted people would be unable to hire attorneys to seek reparations.

But McGee, a carpenter with the Broward School District, said last week that because of the uncertain economy and his desire to help his kids and move out of his mother’s house, it’s time to sign the papers.

“I still want to fight the fight,” he said. “If you are willing to pay knowing I didn’t do this crime, why wouldn’t you pay the legal fees also?”

McGee’s attorney, David Comras, had agreed to represent him on a contingency basis, meaning he would get 25 percent of what his client received from the state. But with the state refusing to reimburse McGee’s legal costs, Comras has agreed to not charge McGee a cent.

“My reward is knowing we are doing the right thing,” Comras said.

McGee was convicted in April 1991 of a gas station robbery, despite a time card and his boss placing him at his janitorial job at Fort Lauderdale High School. He didn’t match the robber’s description. His since-disbarred attorney failed to raise a single objection during the case and attempted to enter the wrong time card into evidence.

A jury convicted McGee, and under state sentencing guidelines, Broward Circuit Judge Paul Backman had no choice but to send him to prison.

During his 43 months behind bars, McGee continued to maintain his innocence, writing letters to everyone from then-President Bill Clinton to the NAACP.