Texas Supreme Court rules Alfred Dewayne Brown be compensated for his wrongful imprisonment

The Texas Supreme Court on Jan. 15, 2020. Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

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More than five years after he was freed from Texas’ death row and nearly two years after prosecutors declared him innocent, the Texas Supreme Court ordered Friday that Alfred Dewayne Brown finally be compensated for his wrongful imprisonment.

In 2015, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals tossed out Brown’s conviction and death sentence in the 2003 murder of a Houston police officer. Phone records found in the prosecution’s possession, but not shared with the defense at trial, supported Brown’s alibi that he was at his girlfriend’s house during the crime.

At first, Brown was freed from prison but not eligible for a state payout for his wrongful imprisonment. A state law allows those who are wrongfully imprisoned to get compensation for the years they were behind bars, but Brown didn’t qualify for the payment because he was not declared “actually innocent” in the courts.

In 2019, that changed. Harris County prosecutors further reviewed the case, and the court signed off on his innocence claim, seemingly paving the way for Brown to receive $80,000 for each year he was wrongfully in prison, plus smaller monthly payments over the course of his life.

But the Texas Comptroller, after receiving advice from the Texas Attorney General, denied Brown’s claim for the money. Houston police union officials have long rejected the ruling of Brown’s innocence.

In its denial, the comptroller's office said it was not clear that the Harris County court had the jurisdiction to issue an innocence ruling years after Brown's original case dismissal. But Brown’s attorneys argued to the Texas Supreme Court, and the justices agreed, that the comptroller exceeded his authority by making such judicial determinations. His job, the Texas high court ruled, is to verify the compensation application documents are sound.

“The Comptroller’s purely ministerial duty to determine eligibility does not include looking behind the verified documents to review the district court’s factual and legal conclusions de novo,” Justice Eva Guzman wrote in the court’s ruling Friday. “We direct the Comptroller to … compensate Brown for the time he was wrongfully imprisoned.”

This story is developing and will be updated.