Wrongful Conviction
4:27 pm
Tue July 29, 2014

Man Wrongfully Imprisoned for 21 Years Seeks Damages From Connecticut

Kenneth Ireland spent 21 years imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit.
Kenneth Ireland spent 21 years imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit.
Credit Connecticut Innocence Project

Kenneth Ireland was released in 2009 after DNA tests exonerated him for a crime he didn't commit. Now the state of Connecticut is holding hearings about how much to compensate him.

Modern DNA tests led to Ireland's exoneration. He's now seeking up to $8 million in damages from the state.

When police questioned 17-year-old Kenneth Ireland for the rape and murder of a Wallingford woman in 1986, he thought it all would pass. "I figured they would figure this out and that it would just go away," he said. "I just went on with my life. I joined the National Guard to get the grant for college. I had gotten a decent job for my age. I was heading down this path where I was constructing a life."

The following year, Ireland was arrested, and soon after, convicted of murder. There was no physical evidence to link him to the crime. He got 50 years and was sent to a maximum security prison. "For the first year," said Cherry Cooney, Ireland's mother, "at least the first year before I had an actual overnight visit with him, I never saw a smile out of him."

Cooney visited Ireland often in prison, and testified alongside her son before the State Claims Commissioner. "Twenty-one years he's never going to get back," Cooney said. "Twenty-one years when he could have gotten married. He could have had children. He could of had a career, [or] gone to college."

In 2007, the Connecticut Innocence Project took up Ireland's case. They requested modern DNA tests on crime scene evidence, which led to Ireland's exoneration. He's now seeking up to $8 million in damages from the state. "Being accused of a murder definitely is everyone's nightmare," he said. "However, I wish it was a nightmare because nightmares you wake up from. Every morning when I woke up, I was still in the prison cell, [and] still in the same conditions."

In 2012, Kevin Benefield, a former deli worker, was convicted of the 1986 rape and murder. He got 60 years, and is now in the same prison Ireland left. The state said it doesn't object to compensating Ireland, but Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr. said he doesn't know when he will announce his decision.