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September 27, 2012

Ruling leaves questions about compensation for wrongfully convicted man

DUNCAN — A Tulsa County judge on Thursday formally vacated a Comanche man’s armed robbery and burglary convictions that wrongfully sent him to prison for 16 years.

But the judge did not declare Sedrick Courtney’s actual innocence, one of his lawyers said.  

Attorneys for Courtney wanted the judge to make a finding of actual innocence, which could make it easier for Courtney to be compensated for his wrongful conviction and imprisonment. Oklahoma caps total state damages in such cases at $175,000.

David Loftis, an attorney for the Innocence Project representing Courntey, said it would have been better for the judge to have declared actual innocence. But he said the ruling does not necessarily preclude Courtney from being compensated.

“He has faith he will be compensated,” said Loftis, adding that the ruling is a “little bump in the road” toward that goal.

Courtney was convicted in 1996 and spent 16 years in prison before he was paroled in June 2011. Based on new DNA testing, the Tulsa  judge  – with consent from prosecutors – negated the conviction this past July.

That meant no further probation obligations for Courtney and wiped the felony from his record.

After he was paroled last year, Courtney met Tina Benedict of Comanche and they married last March. The couple lives in Comanche with Tina’s young son, Elijah, and Sedrick and Tina both work in Duncan.

The New York-based Innocence Project, which seeks to free wrongfully convicted inmates from prison, was instrumental in finding evidence that had earlier been declared lost in Courtney’s case and having it tested for DNA.  

The tests indicated that none of the hair samples from ski masks found near the crime in Tulsa matched those of Courtney.

More coverage on the case will be in Friday's edition of The Banner.

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