Today, Richard Miles Gets Paid for 14 Innocent Years He Spent in Prison. Tomorrow: Payback.
Richard Miles has been out of prison for two and a half years, and he was finally, officially exonerated in February for the crime he didn't commit -- the 1994 murder and attempted murder at a Texaco near Bachman Lake. He's expecting his compensation check from the state today, any minute now. It will be the final bit of closure to his case, which has consumed nearly two decades of his life.
Photo by Leslie Minora Richard Miles stands outside the apartment he'll leave as soon as he can.
Miles is a busy man, finishing off his own case, starting a non-profit to help parolees, and planning with his lawyer how to seek punishment against the prosecutor who landed him in prison for so long, which, as we pointed out recently, can be a nearly impossible quest. Yesterday, in the meantime, two new acquaintances sat at his kitchen table, telling him about their friend who they feel is wrongfully serving a life sentence for murder, hoping Miles might somehow help.
Miles works at a hotel, manning the banquet hall and driving the van. He recently cut back to part-time, preparing to phase out and start his non-profit, Miles for Freedom, which will provide transitional housing to those recently released from prison. He'll use a portion of the initial compensation -- he gets $80,000 for each year he spent behind bars -- to get his foundation up-and-running. Then his annuity payments will kick in.
In 2009, Miles was released on his own recognizance based on withheld evidence, including two police reports and the determination that what was thought to be gunshot residue on Miles' hand may actually have been something else. In the two and a half years between Miles' release and the court of criminal appeals decision basing his release on "actual innocence", he did not know whether he would eventually receive compensation and had to find a job despite a 15-year gap on his resume. He had to make it on his own with little support on which to rest.
Now, he's decided he will be the one to provide that initial support to others. Once he scopes out a location and purchases property, he'll provide training for parolees to learn electrical skills or plumbing skills so they can earn their stay by improving the properties, along with financial literacy classes and counseling. "In prison, the theme is, good work doesn't pay ... that mindset has to be broken when that person comes out of prison," Miles says, sitting on the couch of the small South Dallas apartment he's about to ditch as soon as he deposits his compensation check and closes on a new home.
He'll also use that check to chase even more justice. There's so much compassion for exonerees, he says. But compassion only goes so far. "They're so compassionate about us coming out that the compassion overrides the -- I don't want to say anger -- but the accountability aspect of the whole thing," Miles says.
"My exoneration was standing upon Brady and prosecutorial misconduct," he says. There was no DNA evidence, no confession, no nothing -- just unfettered withholding of evidence and procedural flaws -- all potent enough to land him his freedom and, finally, the recognition of his innocence.
He says with the legal protections prosecutors have, he and his lawyer are still hashing out the best course of action. But to him, all that matters is that they find some course of action. Not even plans for his non-profit can take him away from pursuing punishment for those who punished him.
"It's just something that I have to do," he says. "It's accountability, not so much just compensation."
He wants his non-profit to go a step farther -- to help others as they leave prisons without the compassion and financial safety-nets afforded to exonerees. And while he aims to help people recently released from prison in an official capacity, he still looks to help others who may have also been wrongfully convicted.
Miles listens as his visitors rehash the details of their friend's case, having lunch at his kitchen table. The case rested on the testimony of one eyewitness; there is no conclusive DNA evidence, no confession of another killer. Evidence seemingly pointing to his innocence surfaced years later. But whether or not the man is innocent, legal hurdles and a hefty doses of luck would be necessary for the two men to ever meet outside a prison. "It's just like my case," Miles says.
This post has been updated to reflect the changes Miles brought to our attention in the comments. It now correctly describes the objectives of Miles for Freedom, whereas the earlier version reflected a thorough misunderstanding. Sorry for any confusion.