Man wrongly imprisoned receives $250,000 award
Friday, January 12, 2001

James Bradshaw
Dispatch Statehouse Reporter

A Columbus man who served almost six years in prison for rapes he did not commit was awarded nearly $250,000 in damages yesterday by the Ohio Court of Claims.

Walter D. Smith, now 43, was released Dec. 6, 1996, from the Madison Correctional Institution near London. He had served 12 years in three Ohio prisons for rape and other crimes.

Judge J. Warren Bettis signed the order for the state to pay him $249,989.05. Ohio law calls for payments of $25,000 a year plus lost wages or other income caused by wrongful imprisonment.

Part of Smith's prison term, however, was for a crime to which he admitted: an attempted armed robbery of a Brice Road gas station in 1984. Smith said a cocaine addiction led him to attempt the robbery.

While he awaited sentencing in the Franklin County jail for attempted robbery, three women from the North Side identified him as a rapist.

The rape convictions added 78 to 190 years to his sentence, which would have meant life behind bars had not a Toledo lawyer, Daniel F. Marinik, persuaded Michael Miller, then the prosecutor for Franklin County, to reopen the case in 1996.

Smith's family raised $2,000 for a DNA test, which proved he was not the rapist. Miller confirmed this finding through a second independent test.

Smith could not be reached for comment yesterday; but in an interview while his case against the state was pending, he told The Dispatch he had returned to professional bodybuilding and was working as a part-time marketing representative for a Columbus collection agency.

He said he also enjoyed working to help other addicts recover, having completed a drug-rehabilitation program in prison.

To explain the amount of Smith's settlement, Bettis said it would have been unlikely for Smith to have been paroled at his earliest eligibility on the robbery conviction. The judge said he most certainly would have been released by Feb. 13, 1991. Prison officials described him as a model prisoner.

That meant Smith served at least five years and 297 days longer than necessary, making him eligible for $145,342.47 under the $25,000-a-year guaranteed payment and $104,646.58 in lost income.

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