No support given to local exoneree
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- From time to time we do stories about people who have been wrongfully convicted of crimes, who served time, and then were released. Inevitably, they are largely happy stories. But what happens next? ABC7 News follows up on one such story, with bitter sweet ending.
One man's version of heaven on Earth is fresh air, the trust of a stepchild as she learns how to ride a bike, the love of a fiancé who is five months pregnant. They all contribute to Maurice Caldwell's relative bliss. He has a lot to live for.
"Second chance right now is a new life," said Caldwell.
It's a long way from where he's been and further still from the convicted killer that society made him out to be.
"That was me. Maurice Antoine Caldwell," said Caldwell as he looked at his mugshot.
A drug deal went bad and led to a brutal murder in San Francisco's Alemany Projects back in 1990. An eyewitness behind a window identified Caldwell as the man with holding the shotgun. That sent him to prison for 27 years to life, even as he defended his innocence.
"All I could think about every day was how was I going to get myself out. The fight I was going to fight to come home," said Caldwell.
So maybe, now you remember the day, two years ago, when Caldwell walked free after 22 years in prison. A judge had ordered a second trial due to an incomplete defense, a technicality. But that retrial never happened because of lost evidence and because that eyewitness had died.
"I got out that day with hope and excitement," said Caldwell.
"Now? I'm just... my life, I just hope it gets better," said Caldwell.
The world Caldwell returned to as a 44-year-old had changed from the one he knew at 22. He emerged from prison with no modern skills and a back injury that keeps him from working. As an exoneree, he had become more adapted to life behind bars than life in society.
"I'm not angry. I'm like devastated," said Caldwell.
His lawyer, Paige Kaneb, works such cases for the Northern California Innocence Protect. She has heard such complaints time and again.
"Exonerees don't get anything when they get out," said Kaneb.
"I don't get nothing. Man they haven't given me nothing," said Caldwell.
"They don't get counseling, they don't get housing," said Kaneb.
"Not a bus card, not a phone number, not a direction, nothing," said Caldwell. When asked if he got an apology, he said, "No. You don't get no apology. You don't get nothing."
The state of California does give money to people who have been wrongfully imprisoned, as much as one $100. A day for Caldwell, after all his time behind bars, that could total more than $700,000. But here is a catch -- the process takes years. He must appear before a state board and prove his innocence. The problem is the judge who released Caldwell never dealt with that.
"It is unfair for so many reasons. It's unfair because he's already been so wronged. It's unfair because the state has already conceded that they cannot prove him guilty," said Kaneb.
However, system as it stands does have defenders. Among them, Caldwell's original prosecutor, Al Giannini, who still believes Caldwell committed the crime, even though another man has confessed.
"I think he ought to count himself lucky that he got the break that he did. And I really don't think the taxpayers need to give him a bunch of money on top of it," said Giannini.
"...That's a game. The DA will never admit that they did wrong, when they know they were wrong," said Caldwell.
Two years out of prison and this is Caldwell's post-script. A man with responsibilities, on welfare, in limbo, and yet, still relishing every simple pleasure such as a microwave. He is a guy who spends a lot of time on the couch, watching crime dramas, and living his own aftermath.
"We never had this in prison," said Caldwell as he ate a microwave burrito.
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