A Wallingford, Connecticut, man cleared of rape and murder charges and freed after 21 years behind bars will receive $6 million from the state for the ordeal he endured, officials said Thursday.
Kenneth Ireland was freed in 2009 when DNA evidence exonerated him of the rape and murder of Barbara Pelkey in 1989. Ireland was convicted of the crime more than two decades earlier on circumstantial evidence.
His $6 million award includes $2.5 million for "loss of liberty and enjoyment of life," $1.5 million for lost earnings," $300,000 for lost reputation, $1.5 million for physical and mental injuries and $200,000 for his expenses, according to a memorandum of decision from the Office of the Claims Commissioner.
"This is truly the last step in probably one of the most tortured, lengthy, difficult, painful legal proceedings ever in the state of Connecticut," said Ireland's attorney, William Bloss, who originally asked the state for up to $8 million.
Ireland was imprisoned from the age of 18 to 39, serving out nearly half a 50-year prison sentence, despite a lack of physical evidence connecting him to the crime.
He spent five years behind bars at Somers Prison, a maximum security facility, where he was exposed to "gang violence and administrative segregation," the memorandum said.
In 2000, Ireland was transferred to Wallens Ridge State Prison in Virginia, another maximum security facility "notorious for its poor treatment of inmates," according to the memorandum.
He was later moved to the Macdougall-Walker correctional facility in Suffield, where Ireland spent 21 hours per day in his cell, the document says. He was considered a "high security risk" and was targeted by other inmates.
"Mr. Ireland was wrongfully convicted and was labeled a murderer and sex offender and was forced to spend a long portion of his life in maximum security prisons, where he experienced twenty one years of violence, sleepless nights and the constant fear and hopelessness that he would die in prison as an innocent man," the state memo explained.
The Connecticut Innocence Project began probing the case in 2007. Ireland was freed two years later, and the real criminal was convicted in March 2012, according to the memorandum.
After his release, Ireland detailed the suffering he endured for more than two decades in prison serving time for a crime he didn't commit.
"Not one moment in my entire 21 years did I not have fear," Ireland explained. "You'd look up and there'd be 30 inmates, and everyone would have a sharpened piece of steel and they would just start stabbing other inmates."
Gov. Dannel Malloy called Ireland "a man of extraordinary character who endured the unimaginable pain of two decades of wrongful incarceration, and yet is not only without bitterness, but is incredibly thoughtful, insightful and committed to public safety and service."
"Nothing could ever replace the two decades of life as a free man that were wrongfully taken away from him, separated from his family and friends," Malloy said in a statement Thursday.
After spending half his life behind bars, Ireland has opted to become a professional adventurer. He has already checked skydiving and bungee jumping off the list but said he wants to explore the world he watched pass him by.
"All the different places I've read about, I would love to visit and see and experience them first hand," Ireland said."Twenty-one years is a long time, and I did every day of it. I can't go back, I can't change it, I don't want to relive it, so I'm all about moving onto the future."