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Scott apologizes, signs $1.35 million compensation for wrongly-convicted William Dillon

Thursday, March 1st, 2012 by Dara Kam

In an emotional ceremony, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill compensating wrongly-convicted William Dillon $1.35 million for the 27 years he spent behind bars before DNA evidence exonerated him of a murder conviction.

“On behalf of the state of Florida, I apologize for what’s happened to you,” Scott said at the bill signing ceremony. “What I really appreciate from sitting down with you is that you have such a positive attitude.”

Scott signed the bill hours after the Senate gave final approval to the measure (SB 2) with Dillon looking on from the public gallery.

And the ceremony put to rest a 30-year battle waged by Dillon and supporters, including former Florida State University president Sandy D’Alemberte, who also served as president of the American Bar Association.

Dillon thanked his team, including D’Alemberte and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, for whom Dillon’s compensation became a priority.

“There’s so many names I could tell you about that were behind the scenes to make this team…,” a refulgent Dillon said. “The dollars and cents they make sense for my life, but they don’t give me back what was taken from me. But at the same time, it’s such a joy to be here, because my life was gone. I can’t do anything but look forward.”

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.

House OK’s $1.35 M for man who wrongly served 27 years for murder

Friday, February 24th, 2012 by John Kennedy

An emotional William Dillon looked on Friday as the House agreed to pay him $1.35 million as compensation for spending more than 27 years behind bars from a crime he did not do.

The House voted 107-5 to approve the payment. The Senate, which earlier approved a similar version of the bill, is expected to OK the measure as early as next week.

“It’s been quite a journey,” said Dillon, who choked back tears following the House vote. “Money doesn’t really take care of what we had to deal with, but it will help me get something.”

Dillon said he considered the claims bill an apology from the state.

“Ultimately, it is about just saying ‘we’re sorry this happened to you,’” he added.

Dillon, 52, who now lives in Chapel Hill, N.C., was convicted for the 1981 murder of James Dvorak, in Brevard’s Canova Beach. Eyewitnesses placed him near the murder scene and his alibi didn’t stand up to a jury. It wasn’t until 2005 that the Innocence Project, which works to free those believed wrongfully convicted, was directed to his case.

DNA testing of a bloody shirt which prosecutors said was worn by the victim showed Dillon was not the killer. After he won a new trial, prosecutors dropped charges against him, saying they didn’t have sufficient evidence or witnesses to pursue the case.

Some of the original witnesses against Dillon testified only after they had been threatened with jail time for other crimes by Brevard County prosecutors, researchers found.

“It’s justifiable,” Dillon said of the settlement. “When something is wrong, it’s wrong.”


Senate passes prez Haridopolos priority claims bills

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 by Dara Kam

In the chamber’s first action on the opening day of the 2012 legislative session, the Florida Senate overwhelmingly approved two claims bills, priorities of President Mike Haridopolos that failed to pass last session.

One measure (SR 2) would pay $1.35 million to William Dillon, locked up for 27 years before DNA evidence cleared him of a Brevard County murder. Haridopolos, who sponsored the claims bill, said that the compensation would help correct the injustice done to Dillon.

“At least show when you make a mistake, you own up to it and you try to make it right. That’s what being a compassionate person is all about,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said before the 39-1 vote.

The Senate also signed off on a controversial claims bill that would pay the family of Eric Brody $10.75 million. Brody was catastrophically injured in 1998 when a Broward Sheriff’s deputy crashed into his car. Brody, then a high school senior, was left brain damaged and confined to a wheel chair.

A last-minute deal between Brody’s lawyers and insurers was finalized just before the Senate passed the bill (SR 4) with a 37-2 vote.

Lawmakers have tried for four years to get the “Brody bill” passed. Last year, the House’s failed to take it up on the final day of session, causing the session to end in chaos and Haridopolos to keep senators on hold until the wee hours of the morning before finally abandoning hope that the House would pass the measure.

The bill’s sponsor Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft. Myers, said carrying the bill for two years was a lesson in determination: the determination of Brody’s parents and advocates and of her Senate colleagues in their support.

“But most importantly, it is the determination of one individual who stood so strongly to make sure we would not leave the building until Eric was taken care of,” Benacquisto said, referring to Haridopolos.

Haridopolos – silly games got in the way, ‘I’m embarassed’

Saturday, May 7th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate President Mike Haridopolos apologized to his members shortly before the 2011 legislative session fizzled to an end in the wee hours of the morning Saturday.

Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, brought the chamber back after 2 a.m. this morning to take up and pass a tax-break measure that includes a three-day sales tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers after the House stripped out a tax break for at least one greyhound dog track in Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher’s district.

Instead of the usual fanfare celebrating the end of the 60-day session, the 36 senators who showed returned to the Capitol after Haridopolos sent them home two hours before were somber.

Haridopolos apologized for calling them back so quickly after he had told them the session would reconvene at 10 a.m.

The big losers of the session were two Floridians whose claims bills the House refused to pass before Speaker Dean Cannon adjourned for the year: Eric Brody, who was set to get $12 million from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office for an accident more than a decade ago that left him severely disabled, and William Dillon, a wrongfully convicted Brevard County man who would have received less than $1 million for nearly 30 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. The claims bills for the two men were priorities of Haridopolos.

“They should have been served today by this legislature. Politics got in the way today and I’m embarrassed,” he said.

The Senate sine die’d at 3:35 a.m. The 2011 legislative session is officially over.

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