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Arvin McGee

Former inmate seeks compensation for wrongful conviction

Arvin McGee

Arvin McGee, who, after three trials, was imprisoned for 14 years for a rape he did not commit, met with state lawmakers who hope to pass legislation that would allow McGee and other wrongfully convicted citizens to seek compensation from the state.

"I think I'm due. I think my son and (his) mother are due it," McGee said minutes after he was introduced to members of the Oklahoma House.

McGee, 39, said that at the very least, the state should compensate his 13-year-old son and his son's mother for the years his son grew up without a father.

"He deserves the best. So does his mother," said McGee, who is related by marriage to Rep. Don Ross, D-Tulsa.

Arvin McGee, 39, was serving a 298-year sentence for the 1987 rape of a Tulsa white woman. He was released from the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington on Feb. 26 after DNA tests showed he did not commit the crime.

In 1987, the twenty-year-old woman was attacked in a Tulsa laundry where she worked. She was tied up and locked in the restroom. The attacker returned, carried her over his shoulders to a car, drove to a secluded area, and raped her.

McGee continued to maintain his innocence. At the time of the crime, he was suffering from an injury requiring surgery, rendering him physically unable to carry out the crime. His defense attorneys also pointed out the inconsistencies in the victim’s description of her attacker, which changed several times. McGee’s first trial was a mistrial, the second ended in a hung jury. After the third trial, he was convicted of rape, kidnapping, forcible sodomy, and robbery.

In September 2002, Oklahoma authorities revealed that the DNA profile from the spermatozoa evidence matched the profile of Edward Alberty, a prisoner in Oklahoma. Alberty has since been charged with first degree rape and forcible sodomy.

But state law does not provide a way to compensate McGee or restore his basic rights as a citizen, including the right to vote and possess a driver's license, said his attorney, Gina Cowley Crabtree of Tulsa.

"It's my opinion that the state should meet them and try to restore them," Crabtree said.

"We have no compensation under the law for Mr. McGee or other citizens who have been wrongfully convicted," said Rep. Opio Toure, D-Oklahoma City, the author of a measure that would create a process for wrongfully convicted citizens to file a claim against the state.

"When the system breaks down and a terrible mistake is made, then the citizen should be restored."

Last year, the Legislature passed a measure to allow innocent citizens who are convicted of crimes to seek compensation from the state. It was vetoed by Gov. Frank Keating.

The legislation was passed after a man who spent 15 years in prison for a crime he did not commit was freed by DNA evidence.

Like McGee, Jeffrey Todd Pierce was released from the Joseph Harp Correctional Center after serving 15 years of a 65-year prison term for rape. Pierce was freed after DNA tests showed he did not commit the crime.

Keating said Tuesday that he vetoed the legislation because he believes its language was too broad.

"The veto message was the result of a very broad and open-ended bill," he said. Keating's veto message said the bill would hold the state liable when "there has been no showing of state culpability."

Keating said the state should pay compensation to wrongfully convicted citizens when there is evidence of perjury or other wrongdoing by state prosecutors or law enforcement personnel which resulted in the conviction.

The governor also said he believes more should be done to restore the citizenship rights of wrongfully convicted individuals.

"I think the least we can do is do that," Keating said. "I think that is fully appropriate."

Toure's measure would permit wrongfully convicted citizens to seek up to $200,000 in compensation from the state, the same amount that state law allows victims of medical malpractice to seek from state institutions.

The bill, passed by the House Judiciary Committee, is House Bill 2637.