WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A man who spent more than 13 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of sex crimes against an 8-year-old Kansas girl could receive nearly $900,000 in compensation from the state.
Merardo Garcia Jr., 52, was convicted in 2008 of aggravated indecent liberties with a child and rape against a girl in Wichita. He was sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison. His conviction was vacated in 2020 when the girl recanted her story.
Sedgwick County District Court Judge Seth Rundle last week agreed to the compensation and other concessions to resolve a lawsuit filed by Garza, the Kansas Attorney General's office said Tuesday.
The State Finance Committee must still review the agreement.
Under Kansas law, wrongfully convicted people can be compensated $65,000 for each year they spend in jail. Garza spent 4,928 days in jail.
Garza plans to receive more schooling and occupational training, which are compensated as part of the agreement, his attorney, Richard Ney, said in an email to The Wichita Eagle.
Ney said in a court filing that Garza was asleep on a couch when the girl was molested.
Garza appreciates the settlement but it can't replace the years he lost in prison, Ney said.
“Of course, no amount of money can compensate him for the more than 13 years he spent in prison for a crime he did not commit,” said Ney, who added the case and recent similar cases “show that, tragically, wrongful convictions are not as rare as we would hope.”
Schmidt said in a news release that Kansas has been involved in 14 wrongful conviction lawsuits since December 2018. Agreements have been made in six of those cases, five are being litigated in district courts and courts have denied payment in two cases.
Payment was denied last week in a drug-related case out of Smith County.
Francis Everett, 64, was convicted in November 2007 of manufacturing methamphetamine. He sued after he was released when his conviction was reversed on appeal. He is currently in prison on other charges.
Shawnee County District Court Judge Teresa Walker ruled last week that Everett was released because of an error by the trial court, not because of actual innocence.
She said during a hearing on Jan. 6, Everett failed to prove that he did not commit the crimes and was not an accessory to the acts that caused the original conviction.