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Man wrongly imprisoned for 17 years wants compensation

Alan Northrop was wrongly imprisoned in Washington for 17 years. He hopes a new bill will ensure people like him receive compensation. (AP Photo/file)

Alan Northrop was playing pool in 1993 when his life changed forever. The logger, from Woodland, Wash. near Longview, was leaning over a pool table, and lining up a bank shot when he felt something on his wrist, a handcuff.

Northrop was arrested for the rape and kidnapping of a housekeeper. He insisted he didn’t do anything wrong, but detectives believed the victim’s testimony.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘What? Nobody’s figured this out?’ I just couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe it went that far, and I just couldn’t believe that the law officials couldn’t recognize what was going on,” Northrop tells KIRO Radio’s Andrew Walsh Show.

A jury convicted Northrop, a father of three, to 23 years in prison.

“My kids were very young. My oldest was only 4-years-old. She couldn’t understand why her dad was being taken away. I had a 2-year-old, a 1-1/2-year-old, and of course they’re not going to understand,” says Northrop. “It was devastating, not being able to watch them grow up.”

For years, prosecutors denied the requests to use more advanced DNA testing on the evidence in Northrop’s case.

But in 2005, a new state law gave judges the power to order additional testing.

Five years after that, in 2010, he was sitting in prison and got a letter with results that conclusively showed another man’s DNA was on the victim.

Northrop was finally let go.

Like 23 other states across the country, Washington provides no compensation for those who have been wrongfully convicted.

Our state legislature is trying to change that. House Bill 1341 would entitle those wrongly imprisoned to compensation of $50,000 per year, for every year spent in prison for a crime they did not commit.

For Northrop, that would amount to $850,000, which he says is nothing considering what he had to go through.

“The mental part of what we went through in there, especially when you’re accused of a rape crime, you have no idea.”

Washington has tried to pass a law to compensate the wrongly convicted before, but it never made it to the governor’s desk.

For the states that do compensate the innocent, standards vary wildly. Some pay $50,000 per year. Wisconsin pays $5,000 per year while Missouri pays $50 per day.

The bill would also compensate those wrongly listed on a sex offender registry, to the tune of $25,000 a year.

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