STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A man spent 27 years in prison on a wrongful conviction, then he won $1 million for every year he lost. But it's not the money he cares about. From New England Public Radio, Karen Brown reports.
KAREN BROWN, BYLINE: Mark Schand is used to bad news in court, so that made last month's verdict that much more surprising. He remembers it word for word from the moment the judge read the decision.
MARK SCHAND: He handed it to the clerk, and they said, on the charges of conspiracy, how do you read? They said, we read in favor for Mark Schand. They said, on the charges of malicious prosecution...
BROWN: This is meant to be one more step in righting a massive wrong. At 21, Schand was convicted of a 1986 nightclub shooting in Springfield, Mass., that killed a bystander. He spent almost three decades in prison. In 2013, a judge considered new evidence that testimony in his trial was false and let him go. Schand later sued four Springfield police officers, now retired, for violating his civil rights.
SCHAND: And then the judge asked them, what was the award? And they said 27,127,000. You know, and that was it. Everybody started crying and all that kind of stuff.
BROWN: For Schand, the verdict is less about money and all about vindication. He got no help from the government after he was released. He had to fight the state of Massachusetts for years for a few hundred thousand dollars in compensation, which helped him open a smoothie cafe. But even then, no one apologized.
SCHAND: After all of this time, this was the first time there was some acknowledgment that someone done something - you know, in my wrongful conviction, someone was responsible for it. You know, that was almost bedded into monetary damages. You know what I mean?
BROWN: But the award is significant. Fewer than half of all exonerees in the last 30 years have even filed a civil lawsuit according to the Public Justice Advocacy Clinic at George Washington University. Only half of those plaintiffs have won. And while some got awards in the millions, the average is around $300,000. Rebecca Brown is with the Innocence Project.
REBECCA BROWN: Civil damages certainly don't come easy for any exonerated person. And then we've seen a large range in those civil damages.
BROWN: Mark Schand says he's not counting on any of the money. A lawyer for the city says it's considering an appeal, and state law limits the city's liability to $1 million per officer. Schand's attorneys say the legal process is likely to last another couple years. And Schand is dreading any more time in a courtroom. Even winning, he says, brings back painful memories.
SCHAND: Just to hear them, you know, accusing me of stuff again - that was really hard. I just want some dust to grow on this thing. I want to get it behind me.
BROWN: That means focusing on his smoothie business and one day walking down the street without anyone asking about his case.
For NPR News, I'm Karen Brown.
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