‘I need this bill so I can have a future:’ State reps propose bill for those wrongfully imprisoned

ROME, Ga. — Lee Clark will never forget the day he walked out of prison as a free man.

“That feeling right there, I ain’t scared to say that is the best feeling I’m going to feel in my life,” Clark said.

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Clark spent 25 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

Clark and Josh Storey were 17 years old when their friend, 15-year-old Brian Bowling, accidentally shot and killed himself inside his Rome home while playing Russian roulette in 1996.

More than two decades later, the Georgia Innocence Project, which represented Clark, was made aware of new evidence uncovered by a podcast.

However, since being released, Clark has been forced to start over his life in his mid-40s.

“It’s like I’m 18 coming out of high school. That’s what it’s like, but for someone in my shows, the reality is, I’m not 18 years old, I’m not out of high school, I’m 45 years old, and I don’t have anything in this world,” Clark said.

Right now, Clark works at a job paying a few dollars more than minimum wage. He doesn’t have the experience to get a higher-paying job after being wrongfully imprisoned.

“When there is an error...when there are these egregious mistakes in these cases, we owe it to them,” State Rep Kate Dempsey (R-Rome) said.

Rep. Dempsey is trying to make things right.

She’s sponsoring two bills for two exonerated men that would compensate them for the time they were wrongfully imprisoned.

In Georgia, payments to exonerated individuals like Clark need legislative approval.

Clark’s bill would have the state pay him $1.8 million. That would equal $72,000 for every year he spent wrongfully behind bars.

“I don’t know anybody on this planet who would trade the years of their life and go through the hell I went through to seek the money I’m seeking,” Clark said.

“I think it’s so important to get them back up on their feet,” Rep. Dempsey said.

The bill passed the House with widespread bipartisan support but has not received a hearing in the Senate.

With the legislative session scheduled to end next week, Rep. Dempsey says they will need to get creative to pass the bill this session.


“I need this bill to pass. I need this bill so I can have a future,” Clark said. “God knows what happened was wrong. Anybody who looked at this knows what happened was wrong. And all I’m asking is for someone to do what’s right. All I’ve had is wrong, wrong, wrong. I’ve been getting wrong wrong wrong for 25 years. I just want someone to do us right.”

A house proposal would change how the state handles situations like Clark’s.

If passed, the bill would create a panel to review cases and determine if an individual is innocent (and not exonerated on a technicality) and what they should be paid.

“They’ve waited and waited and waited for their freedom. Now they are waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for the political process to work. I don’t think that’s right,” said Rep. Scott Holcomb, the bill sponsor.

His bill also needs Senate approval.

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