Man Exonerated in Rape after 20 years in Mental Hospital Should be Compensated, Court Finds

Naomi Martin
Sept. 19, 2013

After 20 years in prison, inmate Darrin Hill got released today from East Feliciana on a DNA mismatch from a newly discovered rape kit.

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on September 19, 2013 at 7:05 PM, updated September 20, 2013 at 3:51 AM


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Darrin Hill, a mentally ill man who was wrongly incarcerated for 20 years, is entitled to compensation under state law, a panel of state appellate judges ruled on Wednesday.

Hill had been confined in a mental hospital after being found not guilty by reason of insanity in a rape case. He was freed last year when newly tested DNA evidence exonerated him. That same evidence brought new charges for another prisoner.

Under state law, Hill, 47, is now entitled to as much as $250,000, which would be granted in $25,000 payments each year. Hill is also seeking unspecified damages in a federal civil suit claiming the New Orleans Police Department in 1992 coerced a rape victim to pick him out of a photo lineup after a checkbook baring his name was found in the car where she was raped.

The ruling comes a week after another a jury convicted Derrick Woodberry, 38, in the rape. Prosecutors described Woodberry, who was already imprisoned on another rape conviction, as a “serial rapist.”

View full sizeDarrin Hill hugs his mother, Maria Hill, at her home in eastern New Orleans on Friday, April 27, 2012,, after he was released after 20 years of incarceration for a crime he didn’t commit. At left is Darrin’s younger brother Derwin Hill.
Ted Jackson, Times-Picayune archiveSpeaking outside Woodberry’s trial, Hill said he is not bitter, but lamented that he could never “really have background, such as a career or anything.”

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeal’s four-page ruling upheld a decision by Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Frank Marullo, who freed Hill in April 2012.

Marullo wrote in his ruling that Hill’s 20 years in custody, whether in jail or a state hospital, was the “same thing” because “20 years of his life was taken away from him for an act that both the State and the Defense joined in saying that he is not the guy who committed the rape.”

The state Attorney General’s Office argued that Hill should be denied any compensation because he was never convicted and never imprisoned.

Hill’s attorneys, Kristin Wenstrom and Emily Maw of the Innocence Project of New Orleans, argued that the law — which only specifies those “convicted” and wrongly “incarcerated” — should be interpreted by its intention.

The 4th Circuit panel agreed, saying that Hill’s mental illness created “a nightmare scenario of indefinite incarceration.” The judges cited case law that said clearly written laws should be interpreted strictly, except when they cause “absurd consequences.”

“[To] exclude Mr. Hill from compensation for the grievous loss of almost 20 years of life opportunities, not only leads to ‘absurd consequences,’ but undermines the constitutional validity of the statute,” the ruling reads.

According to the Innocence Project, about one-third of those exonerated nationwide do not receive compensation.