HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Imagine spending years, even decades, locked away in a prison cell for a crime you didn’t commit. It’s a scenario almost too horrible for most of us to fathom but it was real for Kenneth Ireland.
Now he’s free thanks to DNA evidence and demanding compensation from the state for the years of freedom he lost. Ireland had the appearance of any other middle aged man as he offered testimony in front of the state claims commissioner. But his story is one of a system gone wrong and the massive personal upheaval it ultimately caused.
“Like I said, I thought this could never happen in America,” said Ireland.
Kenneth Ireland was just a young man, 18-years-old, when he was convicted of murdering Barbara Pelkey in Wallingford back in 1986 and sent to a maximum security prison.
“I wish it was a nightmare, cause nightmares you wake up from, every morning I woke up I was still in the same prison cell, still in the same condition,” said Ireland.
“He was just scared, he was a scared kid and he’s in there with all these people, extreme frustration,” said Jerry Cooney, Ireland’s mother.
Ireland would spend the next 21 years, prime years of his life, before ‘The Innocence Project’ determined DNA evidence found at the crime scene pointed to another killer. Tuesday Ireland testified in front of the state’s claims commissioner J Paul Vance Jr. who will decide on the compensation he will be paid for all of those lost years of freedom. He has filed a claim for $8 million.
“It would definitely make life more comfortable, I’d be able to do some traveling. I have only read about some places in the world. I would love to see some of the places I’ve only read about,” said Ireland.
Ireland re-lived in great detail his heart-wrenching saga from his conviction to the day he was released.
“I was telling anyone who would listen.. I was innocent,” said Ireland.
Now the only question to be answered is about the dollar figure how much compensation will Kenneth Ireland receive for his suffering.
“The state I’m sure went through the claim with a fine tooth comb and everybody agrees that what happened to Ken Ireland was a terrible, terrible injustice,” said William Bloss, Ireland’s Attorney.
It’s hard to predict how much in terms of dollars will ultimately be coming Kenneth Ireland’s way. As a reference point, seven years ago James Tillman was awarded $5 million by the state legislature after spending 18 years behind bars after being wrongly-convicted of rape. The Ireland case will be decided by the claims commissioner and he says it will be several weeks before he makes his ruling.