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After being wrongly imprisoned for decades, a man is closer to getting compensation

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now we have an update to a story that we brought you back in December about a man named Malcolm Alexander.

MALCOLM ALEXANDER: I wanted to go bungee jumping.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Go on.

ALEXANDER: You know that?

FREDERICK CLAY: I want to do that, too. I haven't done that yet, but I want to do that, too.

SHAPIRO: I think you guys should go together.

That conversation was between Malcolm Alexander and a man named Frederick Clay. They are not extreme sports aficionados. They wanted to bungee jump to feel freedom.

CLAY: I also did hang gliding, too.

ALEXANDER: What? That's nice.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

CLAY: And it gives me - it made me feel like I had a bird's-eye view of the world looking down. And it made me feel free, totally free.

SHAPIRO: Both men spent decades in prison, falsely convicted of crimes they did not commit. Both were ultimately exonerated and released. And when we brought them together for a conversation late last year, Clay had already received financial compensation for the time he'd spent in prison - a million dollars from the state of Massachusetts. But Alexander was still fighting for compensation in Louisiana. In December, he told me that receiving compensation was about more than money, but he said money would help him pay for emergencies or fixes around the house, and he could build a new house for his dog Inn. That name is short for Innocent.

ALEXANDER: I built a doghouse, and I must've didn't build it too sturdy because we just had that storm up here, Ida, and it blew the doghouse apart.

SHAPIRO: Well, last week Alexander got a call he'd been waiting for. His lawyer told him a state appellate court had just ruled in his favor. Now he's entitled to nearly half a million dollars from the state.

ALEXANDER: Which, I will say, it brought tears to my eyes because it was like finally saying, you know, the nightmare is over with. You know, your innocence has finally been proven.

SHAPIRO: The state of Louisiana has an opportunity to appeal the court's decision, so Alexander won't receive the money just yet. Still, he feels like this is the apology he's been waiting for.

ALEXANDER: I could've took a plea bargain and been out of the institution, and I never would have spent as much time in there that I did. But it would have been like admitting to something that I didn't do.

SHAPIRO: As to what he will do, Alexander's been doing a lot of thinking about that. He says he has plans to retire and open his own business doing handiwork. He wants to take his family out for a meal that he can afford. And as for the doghouse...

ALEXANDER: Well, that's the first thing on the agenda. She will be getting a brick house. Just like I said, I am innocent, and she is named after me being innocent. And for that, I live in a brick house. She needs to live in a brick house.

SHAPIRO: He hasn't met up with Fred Clay yet, but the two men have been in touch, hoping to step into bungee harnesses and feel pure freedom soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLXST SONG, "PASSIONATE (FEAT. RODDY RICCH)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.