A Wallingford man who was cleared of murder and rape charges after being imprisoned for two decades has appealed to a Connecticut claims official for millions of dollars in compensation.
Kenneth Ireland was 18 to when he went to prison, wrongfully convicted of raping and murdering Barbara Pelkey. He was freed in 2009 when DNA evidence proved his innocence after nearly 21 years in prison,
In a case expected to set precedent, Ireland's attorneys are asking the state for $5.4 million to $8 million.
He attended a hearing on Tuesday and described the terror he felt as a 20-year-old man heading to a Connecticut prison notorious for gang violence. When told years later that a Superior Court judge exonerated him, he said he still didn't believe he would be set free.
"The state has very fairly and I think very reasonably stepped up and said we have a role in this and we as a society can try to do something to make it better for a guy who lost over half of his life by the time he got out, over half of his life in a 6-by-8 cell," William Bloss, Ireland's attorney, said. "And it wasn't right."
This was the first hearing of its kind in Connecticut, testing a new law that was passed after another man, James Tillman, was wrongfully imprisoned and paid $5 million.
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In 2012, Ireland told NBC Connecticut about the suffering he endured in prison all those years as he served time for a crime he didn't commit.
"Hours and hours and hours and months and months and months of mind numbing boredom followed by 30 seconds of the most violent terror you could imagine, followed by months and months of mindless boredom," he said. "Its not a pretty place and 21 years is a long, long time."
He spent nearly half an hour Tuesday describing the years he spent behind bars, trying to survive daily fights, stabbings and riots, and corrections officers armed with BB guns.
Inmates would light smoky fires that Ireland said he could only weather by lying on the floor and covering his face with a wet rag.
"Not one moment in my entire 21 years did I not have fear," Ireland explained after his release. "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."
Over the years, he gave up hope, describing life in prison as a nightmare, only worse, because there was no relief when he would wake up.
"I resigned I was going to die in Prison," he said, "of old age or, more likely, a violent altercation."
Since his release from prison, Ireland has been counseling young people at risk and doing some accounting work, which he taught himself while behind bars. He said he's been enjoying every moment of freedom.
Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr. is expected to make a decision on Ireland's reimbursement by the end of the year.
Kevin Benefield, the man found guilty of the rape and murder of the Wallingford mother of four, is two years into a 60-year prison sentence.