HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A man who was wrongfully imprisoned for 21 years for the rape and killing of a mother of four was awarded $6 million Thursday from the state of Connecticut.
The state claims commissioner issued the award to 44-year-old Kenneth Ireland under Connecticut's wrongful incarceration compensation law, saying in a report that "no words or dollar amount will suffice to give him back the time that he lost and the misery that he endured."
"Mr. Ireland was wrongfully convicted and was labeled a murderer and sex offender and was forced to spend a long portion of his life in maximum security prisons, where he experienced twenty one years of violence, sleepless nights and the constant fear and hopelessness that he would die in prison as an innocent man," Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr. said in his report.
Ireland was imprisoned at the age of 18 and released in 2009 at age 39 after DNA tests proved another man fatally beat and raped 30-year-old Barbara Pelkey in Wallingford. The other man, Kevin Benefield, is serving a 60-year prison sentence for killing Pelkey, a mother of four.
The new DNA testing came after the Connecticut Innocence Project, which looks into potentially wrong convictions, began reviewing Ireland's case in 2007.
Ireland had sought up to $8 million from the state under the wrongful incarceration compensation law,
"I am extremely pleased and thankful for the hard work and the thoughtfulness of the state and the claims commissioner," Ireland said Thursday. "You can't replace those years, but I've gotten beyond that and I'm looking forward to the future. I'm not a live-in-the-past kind of guy."
Ireland said he looks forward to traveling, possibly to Europe and Australia, but has no definitive plans for the $6 million.
"This ensures my security and affords me a little bit of room to explore the world and become familiar with and see things I've missed," he said.
Ireland worked as a bookkeeper after he was freed from prison. In October, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy appointed him to a paid position on the state parole board.
"Kenneth Ireland is a man of extraordinary character who endured the unimaginable pain of two decades of wrongful incarceration, and yet is not only without bitterness, but is incredibly thoughtful, insightful and committed to public safety and service," Malloy said in a statement Thursday. "Modern DNA technologies are ensuring that the violent criminals who have actually committed the crimes are convicted and remain behind bars. I applaud the work of the Innocence Project."
The $6 million award is the first under the wrongful incarceration compensation law. The statute was passed in 2008, a year after the legislature awarded $5 million to James Tillman, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 18 years for a rape he didn't commit and freed in 2006.