Attorneys Matt Huppertz and Mark Powers are partners at the criminal defense law firm of Huppertz & Powers, S.C. in Waukesha.
Since beginning his career in 1982, Huppertz has argued before the Wisconsin Supreme Court five times and has lectured on the admissibility of DNA evidence in criminal cases.
Powers served as an Assistant District Attorney with the Waukesha County District Attorney's office as well as a municipal judge in North Prairie.
For more information, please visit www.waukeshacriminalattorneys.com.
In 1984, Robert Stinson of Milwaukee was convicted of raping and killing 63 year-old Ione Cychosz, also of Milwaukee. He was sentenced to life in prison after bite marks found on the victim were determined to be his.
But that was far from the end of the case. Stinson, who was missing a tooth, was released from prison in 2009 because DNA evidence ultimately excluded him from the murder and it matched another man, Moses Price. Price confessed to the crime and was sentenced to 71/2 years in 2012 in addition to the life prison sentence he received for a homicide he committed in 1991.
Anyone watching or reading the news these days knows that there isn’t a lot that state lawmakers from differing parties agree on but they do agree on this: Robert Stinson deserves a lot more money from the state for the 23 years he spent in prison for a murder he did not commit.
There is growing bipartisan support for a bill that would award Stinson, 49, an additional $90,000 on top of the normal maximum $25,000 payout for those wrongfully convicted in Wisconsin. In fact, support is growing among both parties to boost the amount of compensation for everyone in Wisconsin exonerated of crimes for which they’ve been imprisoned.
In addition to increasing the annual payout to $50,000 from $5,000, the measure would require the state to provide services such as health care coverage. It would lower the burden for proving innocence for those seeking compensation. And it would require a judge, rather than an appointed board, to make the decision about whether to award compensation.
Right now under Wisconsin law, the state Claims Board can pay no more than $5,000 a year, up to five years, to compensate innocent people who have been wrongfully imprisoned. Any payments beyond that are possible only through special bills passed by the Legislature. The Claims Board had recommended that Stinson get $90,000 more in compensation. The Stinson bill, Senate Bill 249, is sponsored by a bipartisan group of 19 lawmakers.
This case certainly illustrates how it can be very prudent to question the role of the different branches of the court, the defense attorneys and the prosecutors using the system of checks and balances because mistakes of this nature can and do occur. This case is a prime example of how it can happen. Once there’s acknowledgement that there has been a wrong that needs to be righted, how do you associate the evidence in terms of a dollar amount for the years that were lost?
Having seen people spend time in jail, I can’t personally envision a dollar amount with which I would be comfortable in exchange for my freedom. Coming up with an additional $90,000 in this case for 23 years of life is actually ludicrous. No dollar amount could ever make up for those lost years. However, it’s a step in the right direction.
We should also keep in mind the other kinds of losses people suffer such as losing a loved one in a plane crash or other type of tragedy. How do you determine a dollar amount that could possibly be an acceptable substitute for that type of loss? Other types of wrongs in the civil court system would demand a heck of a lot more than $105,000 for 23 years of, in effect, lost life.
In the final analysis, even though no dollar amount could ever adequately compensate Stinson for this wrong, I completely agree with the purpose and intent of this bill. He certainly should receive the extra compensation. He was wrongly accused of an atrocious crime His liberties were taken from him for 23 years and those liberties can never be restored. The additional money is mere peanuts in the greater scheme of things but, again, I believe it’s a step in the right direction.
Without a doubt, what everybody in the criminal justice system hopes is that these types of cases are very few and very far between. That’s why we have the roles of judge, prosecutor and defense, to insure that such an injustice will almost never happen.