2 years after release, exonerated man fights for a settlement, aids “brotherhood” of exonerees
Share Now on:
Back in May 2020, Marketplace’s Reema Khrais spoke to a guest on the “This Is Uncomfortable” podcast who, she said later, struck her as eternally optimistic, though he had every reason not to be.
That man was Kevin Harrington. He had just been exonerated of a first-degree murder conviction for which he’d wrongfully spent 17 years behind bars.
Harrington is far from the only person who has been victimized by this kind of tragic mistake. It’s estimated that 1% of the U.S. prison population — approximately 20,000 people — have been falsely convicted. Yet in the last 30 years, fewer than 3,000 people have been exonerated in the United States.
The state of Michigan, where Harrington was convicted, has a law that guarantees exonerees $50,000 in compensation for every year served. Many states have no such law on the books. However, the legal battle over the financial reparations doesn’t end there.
Harrington and Khrais spoke again about what his last two years have been like. An edited transcript of their conversation is below.
Reema Khrais: We chatted right when you’d been exonerated in 2020, so I’m really excited to talk with you. And my first question is just how are you? How are things going?
Kevin Harrington: Well, I have a son, he’ll be 1 year old soon. So you know, everybody who’s a parent knows, that keeps you on your toes.
Khrais: Oh, man. I can’t imagine. Yeah.
Harrington: And then we’re doing a lot of stuff in the community with my nonprofit. You know, we do coat giveaways, toy giveaways around Christmastime, Thanksgiving meals. This will be our third year through all the holidays and stuff like that.
Khrais: Wow. So many life updates. And so you’ve got that nonprofit. What other goals do you have for your career?
Harrington: Well, so I started also a consulting firm, Justice Group Consulting Firm LLC, where I help guys who are still incarcerated who are claiming innocence, helping them file their paperwork, helping them do some digging to unearth some of those things that I had to do to prove my innocence.
Khrais: That’s amazing. Sounds like you want to be the kind of resource you wish you had earlier.
Harrington: Yeah, absolutely. I also sit on a board of an organization of exonerees, where other people that were wrongly convicted in the state of Michigan, we all banded together so we can help one another out. It’s kind of like a brotherhood because we understand what we went through and where we are now.
Khrais: I remember when we last chatted, we talked about, how in the state of Michigan — where you were convicted and where you still live today — people who are released from prison after a wrongful conviction like yours are entitled to $50,000 for each year that was served. So in your case, 17 years. Have you gotten that money yet?
Khrais: How has that money allowed you to rebuild your life?
Harrington: Well, I don’t believe there’s monetary funds that they can give someone for kidnapping, essentially, taking someone away from a family of loved ones and essentially stopping their life. Yes, money helps. I didn’t have a lot of skill sets to be able to just hop back into the workforce like someone that just finished college, so to speak. So you know, the money helps moving those type of things along and being able to, you know, find yourself a little bit, being able to pay your bills and things of that nature. And, you know, just try to enjoy life a little bit, you know, what you have left.
Khrais: So, you’ve also filed a federal lawsuit against some detectives in a suburb of Detroit, right, for about $160 million. And it seems like y’all are in the middle of that right now. You know, practically that money obviously would be huge. But symbolically, what would that mean to get that compensation?
Harrington: It would mean justice. It would mean that the hands of justice really work. It remains that the hands of justice is human, meaning we make mistakes, but we rectify them. That’s what that money means. So there’s no amount of money in the world that someone can give someone to say, well, “Hey, you lost loved ones, you missed funerals, because you were forced not to be here.” It was mental torture. How are you supposed to uproot that and just carry on like nothing happened?
Khrais: What’s been the most difficult part of putting your life back together?
Harrington: So you know, you have to relearn things. Like today, I told my girlfriend actually, the back-up camera, like were you trying to back up in your car? It’s, like, one of the best inventions.
Khrais: I know, right?
Harrington: It would have taken me, like, 10 hours to parallel park, so like things like that. You know, the small things like you know, using the iPhone, MapQuest, that stuff is genius.
Khrais: I remember when we last talked you were really optimistic and really just like taking in the smaller joys of day-to-day life, and now that it’s been two years since you’ve been released, what’s a surprising source of joy lately for you?
Harrington: I love going to the fitness gym. It’s very cool, there’s a lot of stuff to do. They have a day care in there, so they can watch my son. So, those small things. I enjoy walking around my community, sightseeing. You know, I still feel like a foreigner almost. Like, I like different smells and different hustle and bustles, and I just love just being around in the midst of it. Every day is just a blessing.
Correction (Oct. 11, 2022): A previous version of this story misstated the location of the lawsuit.
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.