New Rhode Island Law Allows Wrongly Convicted Monetary Compensation for Years Behind Bars

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By Brinda Kalita and Tommy Nguyen

PROVIDENCE, RI- Legislation recently passed in Rhode Island will allow those who were wrongfully convicted to be paid up to $50,000 for each year they spend wrongly incarcerated.

One of the first beneficiaries of this new law was Paul Corteau, a 64-year-old man living in Taunton, RI.

In March 1981, Corteau, who was 21 at the time, was wrongly convicted of an armed robbery at a jewelry showroom in North Providence.

The robbers, one with a gun, stole over $240,000 worth of jewelry.

During the investigation, the victim was presented photos of Corteau twice, before she identified him as the gunman. However, her original description of the gunned robber did not match Corteau at all.

According to a state prosecutor, Corteau’s investigation was not thoroughly conducted. Instead, Corteau was victimized by questionable tactics of law enforcement officers, who were given “reliable” information that Corteau committed the crime.

Corteau was imprisoned until he was made parole in 1994.

On the other hand, Corteau’s exoneration only began after John Burke, a killer and habitual bank robber, entered into the federal witness protection program, and admitted to a lifetime of crimes, including the robbery that Corteau was convicted of doing.

This week, Corteau said he was grateful for the $558,000 he is expected to be awarded. However, he believes that the money cannot make up for the life he lived derailed.

“I’ve been through the wringer and I am focused right now on starting a new chapter in my life. I am happy. It’s been a long haul. Time to move on.” he stated when describing his feelings about receiving the money.

He plans to use the money to buy a home and start a nonprofit community for adolescents “to give them a safe place to learn so that they do not make the same mistakes I did.”

Former Warwick Detective Jeffrey Scott Hornoff has spent more than six years in prison for the 1989 murder of Victoria Cushman which he did not commit. Another man has finally confessed to the crime in 2002.

Cushman was 29 and living on her own in a one-bedroom apartment in Warwick, where she also worked. She met Hornoff, a married man, in Narragansett and they began a relationship.

But on a day that Cushman failed to arrive at work, an employee checked on her and found her dead body lying in the living room near an open window.

The police also found Cushman’s letter for Hornoff, expressing her interest in continuing their relationship. Police believed that it provided Hornoff a motive for killing her, since he was also being ambiguous about the relationship between the two.

Hornoff had a solid alibi—he attended a fellow officer’s house party the night Cushman was murdered. But despite the fact that there was no evidence linking him to the crime scene, the police pursued him as the only suspect.

Hornoff was convicted of first-degree murder in 1996. It was not until six years later when Todd Barry confessed to killing Cushman, resulting in Hornoff’s release from prison.

“You might try to imagine a cop in prison,” said Hornoff to the lawmakers during a 2019 hearing of the compensation bill. “I was double-bunked with some of the most disgusting men you could imagine.”

Hornoff also filed a lawsuit against the city of Warwick and the state in federal court, alleging that the police violated his civil rights through their questionable investigation and not making any effort at considering evidence that would have proven his innocence.

The city has agreed to pay Hornoff $600,000 and a $64,057-a-year disability pension as part of the settlement of both lawsuits.

Hornoff directed all of the settlement money to his former wife, said state Rep. Patricia Serpa, who was the chief sponsor of the wrongful-conviction legislation.

Hornoff’s lawyer had also filed a compensation request with the Superior Court in February and is waiting for a date for his hearing.

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About The Author

Brinda is a second year History/Law and Society major at UC Riverside. She plans on going to law school right after graduation in 2024 and hopes to become a judge one day!

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