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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A 56-year-old man is trying to become the first person to receive compensation for wrongful imprisonment under a new Utah law.
The Utah Court of Appeals on Thursday ruled that Harry Miller should get a new hearing to prove his innocence, which would make him eligible for about $160,000 in compensation from the state.
Miller spent 4 1/2 years in prison for a robbery before charges against him were dropped and he was released in 2007.
He has always maintained his innocence, claiming he could not have robbed a woman at knifepoint in Salt Lake City in 2000 because he was in Donaldsonville, La., recovering from a stroke.
Miller's attorney, Andrew McCullough, hailed the court's ruling.
"It's also a tremendous victory for anyone who might find themselves in the same situation," McCullough told the Salt Lake Tribune.
The Utah Attorney General's Office has challenged Miller's claim, saying he has not shown there is new evidence to prove his innocence.
The office hasn't decided whether to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court or suggest changes to the law.
"We're going to take some time to review what the court has said," Assistant Attorney General Erin Riley said. "This is the first case to come up on appeal under this law."
Miller petitioned for compensation for his imprisonment in May 2008, five days after a law creating a path to restitution took effect.
Under the law, innocent people are entitled to the state's average annual salary -- about $36,000 in 2007 -- for each year they wrongly spend in prison.
But in order to avoid compensating those who are released on a technicality, the law requires people prove they are "factually innocent" at a court hearing.
Miller, who is living with his daughter and looking for work in Fort Smith, Ark., said the compensation would make a big difference for him. He said his prison time "really ruined" his life.
He was sent to prison for five years to life after his 2003 conviction. But his attorneys later gathered new evidence to cast doubt on his conviction, and Miller won an order for a new trial. Salt Lake County district attorneys declined to prosecute again.
Employment and hospital records placed Miller in Louisiana two weeks before the robbery and a week afterward, but prosecutors argued he could have traveled back to Utah during that time and committed the crime.
Miller's sister was unable to testify on his behalf at his trial because of problems with her son. But on appeal, Miller's attorneys found other witnesses who could testify he was sick and in Louisiana, including his niece and a home health care nurse.
In October, Miller was arrested on suspicion of attempted possession of a controlled substance in Salt Lake City.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)