DETROIT (WJBK) - Convicted of crimes they didn't commit, they've been released from state custody. A new state law is now making them eligible for up to $50,000 for each year they wrongfully were behind bars - they just have to convince a judge.
Edward Carter spent 35 years in a Michigan prison for a crime he didn't commit. Despite spending most of life locked up, he's not bitter.
"I don't think any of us can imagine what it's been like for him," his attorney, Sima Patel said. "It's a lifetime that was taken away."
Carter's in his 60s and has a job at Zingermans in Ann Arbor. But until 2010, he was locked up, convicted of raping a pregnant woman in a bathroom stall on the campus of Wayne State University in 1974. A witness wrongfully identified and after fingerprint evidence was discovered, he was freed.
"He never lost faith. He kept at it. If anything this is a testament to his will because he kept maintaining his innocence," Patel said.
On Wednesday, he was in a claims court to make his case for what he was due. He and his attorney won the judge over.
"You either have a heart full of hatred or a heart of gratitude. I accept your representation that that Mr. Carter indeed has a heart of gratitude," the judge said. "The $1,761,506.85 -- is awarded in full."
Senator Steve Bieda first started work on the wrongful imprisonment act around 2004. Thirteen years later, the legislation is approved and provides people wrongfully convicted with $50,000 per year of imprisonment , some restitution, and attorney fees.
"You can never compensate for that. I really teared up when I heard that. That's just a horrible thing to go through," Bieda said.
Carter wasn't the only one who was awarded money for his time in prison. Marwin McHenry, 25, was convicted of shooting and injuring a woman in 2012 on Detroit's west side, a crime he didn't commit.
"It was dehumanizing and degrading to him. He's fortunate he's out and he's young enough to turn his life around and get a good education and job," attorney Wolf Mueller said.
After the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office investigated, it determined McHenry was innocent. A judge awarded him more than $175,000 on Wednesday
"That's a significant amount of money for someone of Mr. McHenry's age, but it's not a life-changing amount of money," Mueller said in court.
It wasn't all good news for the wrongfully convicted. Mueller's other client, 33-year-old James Shepherd was convicted of murdering a drug dealer in 2011 in Flat Rock. He didn't receive any compensation on Wednesday.
"James shepherd was a case that never should've been brought, should not be left out in the cold but he wasn't forunate enough or didn't need to find new evidence," Mueller said.
Mueller says he'll appeal the decision and plans to talk with Senators to amend the wording of the law.