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Sandy D’Alemberte’

Long-awaited compensation for wrongly imprisoned man now in Gov. Scott’s hands

Thursday, March 1st, 2012 by Dara Kam

Sandy D'Alemberte, Guy Spearman, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and WIlliam Dillon

A bill paying William Dillon $1.35 million for the 27 years he spent behind bars for a murder he did not commit is headed to Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to sign it as early as today.

With Dillon watching from the public gallery, the Florida Senate gave final passage to the compensation for the Brevard County man, a priority of Senate President Mike Haridopolos that was part of a late-night drama on the last night of last year’s session.

Florida lawmakers have been tough on crime, Haridopolos said.

“But when there are people in prison who’ve been wronged, who should have never been there, we need to stand up as a legislature and do what’s right,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, added. The Senate gave Dillon a standing ovation before approving the bill (SB 2) with a 38-1 vote.

Last year, Haridopolos kept the Senate on hold until the wee hours of the morning, hoping the House would sign off on the measure. That did not happen. The House approved the bill and returned it to the Senate after adding language prohibiting Dillon from suing the Brevard County Sheriff’s office in the future. Dillon’s compensation also includes 120 hours of free education at a state college or university.

Dillon, now 52, was freed from a Florida prison after DNA evidence exonerated him of a murder he was convicted of in 1981.

“It’s awesome,” an emotion Dillon, who now lives in Chapel Hill, N.C., said. “It certainly has been a long journey.”

Dillon thanked Sandy D’Alemberte, a former president of the American Bar Association who championed Dillon’s cause for about a decade, Haridopolos, and Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and lobbyist Guy Spearman.

“That’s the great thing about this. There are people that actually believe in you enough to actually help you,” Dillon said, recalling his confidence prior to his release.

“I had this grandeur that everybody was going to see it and know it to be true. But it wasn’t like that. When I was released…People thought I still committed the crime,” Dillon, choking up, said.

“The grandeur’s faded away…and I never thought I’d ever…,” he said, unable to finish.

Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, signed the measure this morning so Scott could receive and sign the bill as early as this afternoon.

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