Man Who Served More Than 45 Years in Prison for Murder He Didn't Commit Awarded $1.5M

Richard Phillips, 73, spent more than 45 years in prison after being framed for a murder he didn’t commit.
Michigan Innocence Clinic

A Michigan man who spent more than 45 years in prison after being framed for a murder he didn’t commit has been awarded $1.5 million by the state.

Richard Phillips, 73, had been selling the paintings he created behind bars to make a living, as his release last spring left him with nothing. 

The pieces of artwork have sold for thousands and hailed as masterpieces, and their sale and popularity has been considered by Phillips his silver lining, CBS News reported.

"It would be remiss of me to actually want to keep all of this stuff rather than share it with the American public," he said.

“I’m gonna be alright regardless, whether they compensate me or not,” Phillips noted before officials announced he would in fact be compensated for the time he lost in prison.  

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Friday Phillips would receive $1.5 million. 

“Re-entering society is profoundly difficult for wrongfully convicted individuals and we have an obligation to provide compassionate compensation to these men for the harm they suffered,” Nessel said in a press release. “I’m proud our office was able to play a part in ensuring justice was served.”

Phillips was arrested in 1971 for a murder he did not commit. He was convicted in 1972, but was granted a new trial in 2017. But the charges against him were dropped entirely in 2018, as Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said the case was based almost entirely on false testimony from one witness, MLive.com reported

“This is great news, and was absolutely the right thing to do,” Worthy said in the press release issued by Nessel’s office. "I remain thankful that in 2018 we were able to bring some justice to Mr. Phillips. While this compensation will not bring back the 45 years that he unjustly served in prison, it is my sincere hope that it will bring a well-deserved and fulfilling quality of life to him.”

Phillips served the most time of any exoneree in U.S. history.

“Conceding that no system is perfect, the government’s public recognition and overturning of the convictions of these men helps to foster a healing process, and assures Michiganders that the government – regardless of fault – will take ownership of its errors,” Nessel said in the release.

Nessel also announced two other Michigan men would be compensated for the time they wrongfully spent in prison. 

Neal Redick, who served more than 15 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of criminal sexual assaults against a minor, will receive $780,000, while Raymond McCann, who was wrongfully convicted of perjury in 2007, was awarded $40,000, MLive.com wrote. 

Theirs and Phillips’ payments will come from Michigan’s Wrongfully Imprisoned Compensation Act. Signed into law in 2016, the act makes it possible to compensate exonerees up to $50,000 for each year they wrongfully spent in prison.

The fund does not currently have enough money to pay the total $2.5 million awarded to Phillips, Redick and McCann, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed a $10 million appropriation to replenish the fund earlier this month.

“While this item veto underscores my strong support for referendum rights, it should not be construed as a lack of support for compensation for citizens wrongfully imprisoned,” Whitmer wrote. 

The fund’s current balance is $325,990.

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