JACKSON, Miss. – A man who was convicted and later cleared after falsely confessing to murder at 13 says he is grateful a court revived his request for compensation in Mississippi — and that others might benefit from a change in how the state handles wrongful conviction lawsuits.
"I had lost a lot of faith in Mississippi's judicial system," Tyler Edmonds, now 28 and living in Palm Beach, Florida, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Thursday.
Mississippi allows up to $50,000 for every year someone is imprisoned after a wrongful conviction. People must sue the state for the compensation. The state attorney general's office says money has been paid to 34 people, one of whom was compensated for two wrongful convictions.
Edmonds served nearly three years after conviction and under an agreement between lawyers, he could receive about $192,000, said his attorney, Jim Waide.
A judge rejected Edmonds' compensation request in 2015, saying the false confession amounted to fabrication of evidence.
The Mississippi Supreme Court revived Edmonds' request Thursday, sending it back to a trial court for consideration by a jury. In ordering that the request be handled by a jury rather than a judge alone, the justices are also changing how other compensation cases will be decided in Mississippi.
Edmonds said it's important for people from a community, rather than judges who are in the same legal circles as prosecutors, to consider the compensation lawsuits.
"I think that matters to me more than anything," Edmonds said of the procedural change. "There is a way for a victim, or a person who has been through this, to be heard."
Edmonds was convicted of murder in 2004 in the 2003 shooting death of Joey Fulgham, the husband of Edmonds' half sister, Kristi Fulgham. Court records show Edmonds' mother was not present when the 13-year-old told police that he and Kristi had killed Joey. Days later, Edmonds recanted and said Kristi had acted alone.
The Mississippi Supreme Court overturned Edmonds' conviction and life sentence in 2007. Edmonds was retried and acquitted in 2008. Both times, he was tried as an adult.
Edmonds said he was locked up in a county jail, a state prison and a juvenile prison.
"I still don't know that I have the words to describe what it was like besides 'terrible,'" Edmonds said Thursday. "I think in retrospect looking back now, I was so busy just trying to survive then. I didn't really have time to process it or realize what was going on. ... I don't really think I had the mental capacity or maturity emotionally to understand just how screwed up it was at the time. With the benefit of retrospect and being an adult now, I think it hits home a lot more, mentally."
Edmonds still has family in Mississippi and said he often returns to the state. He said that because of health issues, he has been unable to hold down a 9-to-5 job outside home but he has his own home-based embroidery business, doing logos for medical clinics and other businesses.
Waide said he will request that Edmonds' wrongful conviction lawsuit be moved away from north Mississippi's Oktibbeha County, where Joey Fulgham was killed. Kristi Fulgham was convicted of capital murder and is serving a life sentence.
The Innocence Project, a lawyers group that works to exonerate people who were wrongfully convicted, says the federal government, 32 states and the District of Columbia allow compensation in such cases.
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