By: Ron Capshaw
Capital News Service
Marvin Lamont Anderson will receive $200,000 cash and about $40,000 annually for the rest of his life in compensation for spending 15 years in prison and five on parole for a crime he did not commit, the General Assembly decided Saturday, Feb. 22.
The House and Senate unanimously approved the package for the 38-year-old Hanover County man, who had been wrongly convicted of a 1982 rape in Ashland. Two years ago, DNA evidence proved that Anderson was innocent.
The legislation represented a compromise between the $1.5 million payment that Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert, III, D-Richmond, sought for Anderson, and the $500,000 initially approved by the House Appropriations Committee.
In the legislative session's closing days, House and Senate negotiators agreed on setting aside $750,000 for Anderson. But his supporters said that was too low -- and so the final package included a $200,000 cash payment and a lifetime annuity.
"We're going to take the lump sum of $750,000 and give $200,000 of it up front to Marvin," Lambert said. "The rest we will take and buy a non-assignable annuity for him for the next 30 years. That means $40,000 a year tax-free for him for the next 30 years."
Because the amount generated by the annuity could fluctuate, there was no firm figure on the value of the compensation package for Anderson. Some reports put the value at $1.2 million.
Anderson will receive a $200,000 check from the state treasurer on or before Aug. 1. The monthly payments for the remainder of life, purchased through the annuity, will begin on Sept. 1.
Anderson's case has drawn a pardon from Gov. Mark Warner, the attention of former O. J. Simpson defense attorney Johnnie Cochran and a debate in the General Assembly over the proper amount of financial restitution.
"How do you repay a guy who lost 15 years of his life?" said Delegate John S. Reid, R-Henrico. It was a question that many legislators seemed to be asking themselves.
Some critics had accused the House Appropriations Committee of racism for slashing Lambert's initial $1.5 million proposal for Anderson. They noted that last year, Frank Cox, a white man wrongfully imprisoned for 11 years for a 1990 murder, was given $750,000.
"The only way to explain that kind of disparity · is a decision that a black life lost to prison for that many years simply isn't worth as much as the life of a white man," said Peter Neufeld, one of Anderson's lawyers. He works with the Innocence Project, which assists people who claim to be wrongfully convicted of crimes. Lambert sees "racial overtones" but also class ones.
"I think the Cox award was based on the fact that he was an electrician and made more money than Marvin," he said. "But at the time of his arrest, Marvin had two jobs and was just as important as Cox."
But for Reid, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, the $500,000 had nothing to do with class or race; it had to do with not having a budget for the case.
"We didn't get the bill for Marvin until after our budget was completed," he said. "We had nothing there. Zero. We didn't know this bill was coming. I told Senator Lambert that we'd go ahead and get a figure out there for the Senate to work with."
Reid characterized the charges of racism leveled at the committee as "silly." "Everyone realizes this guy was innocent," Reid said.
Delegate Jackie T. Stump, D-Oakwood, also disputes the notion that racism was behind the figure." There was nothing racist about it at all," he said. "The complete committee voted unanimously on the figure, including two black members" -- Democratic Delegates Mary T. Christian of Hampton and Lionell Spruill of Chesapeake.
Besides, Stump said, "We never intended the $500,000 to be the final figure. It was just something to get out there to be debated."
Lambert said Anderson had a compelling case for more compensation:" When Marvin's sister spoke to the Assembly about their hardships as a family -- having to quit college to support the family, having to move out of their apartment because their tenants didn't want them there --everyone in the Assembly was crying, except the (Appropriations) committee."
On Wednesday, Delegate Jeannemarie Devolites, R-Vienna, gave a speech on the House floor, urging members to reject the reduced amount. She cited as a precedent the Cox award.
"I feel very strongly that he should be given the same amount," Devolites said. "He needs to be treated as fairly as possible."
Anderson was 19 when he was convicted based on the victim's eyewitness testimony. He received a 210-year prison sentence and was paroled in 1997. Until his exoneration, he was registered as a sex offender.
Gov. Warner pardoned Anderson in August 2002.