Cotton's Compensation

... hoping that he might be able to claim a larger award from North Carolina in the future. Cotton feared that accepting the state's offer of $5,000 might somehow preclude him from getting this larger compensation.

The state's offer of $5,000 was based on a 1948 North Carolina statute which stipulates $500 for each year of wrongful incarceration up to a maximum of 10 years (with no compensation beyond 10 years).

Although Cotton had received a pardon of innocence from the governor (according to attorneys familiar with the case, the only such pardon ever granted in North Carolina; most pardons are for forgiveness, not innocence), no statutory mechanism exists to allow Cotton to seek further compensation.

Cotton's lawyers continue to hope that they might get such legislation introduced in the state legislature.

According to attorney Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, New York and West Virginia are the only states that allow those wrongfully imprisoned and later exonerated to seek substantial damages. Most states have sovereign immunity, which precludes citizens from suing the state.

In one of the largest DNA exoneration financial awards ever granted, West Virginia paid Glenn Woodall $1 million in an out-of-court settlement. Woodall had wrongfully served four and a half years in jail and another year in home confinement. The figure matched West Virginia's maximum insurance coverage carried for such civil suits.

The court papers filed by Woodall's attorney Lonnie Simmons listed grounds for the suit which included: attorney's fees, legal costs, loss of income, loss of reputation in the community, emotional pain and suffering, pain and physical suffering, loss of ability to enjoy life, impairment of earning capacity and substantial other injuries for which the plaintiff is entitled to other recovery.

Meanwhile, Ron Cotton hopes that public attention to his case will persuade the North Carolina legislature to enact a law that could win him a similar outcome.

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