Man wrongfully imprisoned for 1986 murder in Wallingford files compensation claim

Man wrongfully imprisoned for 1986 murder in Wallingford files compensation claim


Kenneth Ireland poses in Hartford Aug. 20, 2009. Murder and rape charges were dropped against Ireland, who spent two decades in prison before DNA testing showed he could not have committed the crimes. “It was a surreal moment. I’ve never been outside in such an open environment without handcuffs and shackles,” he said. | Associated Press

Kenneth Ireland, who spent 21 years in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of a 1986 murder in Wallingford, is seeking up to $8 million from the state as compensation for time described as an “unimaginable nightmare.”

Ireland’s 105-page claim, titled “Analysis of Damages,” was filed Monday with the state Office of the Claims Commissioner by William Bloss and Sean McElligott, attorneys who voluntarily took on Ireland’s compensation case.

According to conclusions drawn in the claim, Ireland’s lost time should be valued between $5.475 and $8 million. The most significant portion of that claim — between $2.25 and $2.75 million — is based on Ireland’s loss of liberty and enjoyment of life while imprisoned between 1989 and 2009. The claim describes Ireland’s ordeal in prison, detailing how he witnessed violence and gang killings, saw a man burned alive, and lost part of a finger. According to the claim, he also missed his father’s and grandmother’s funerals and couldn’t support his mother when she suffered a brain tumor. Ireland was imprisoned from age 18 to 39.

“Every day of Mr. Ireland’s twenty one years in state custody was an unimaginable nightmare,” the claim states.

DNA evidence exonerated Ireland and he was released in August 2009. He had been convicted in 1989 for the 1986 rape and murder of Barbara Pelkey, whose body was found next to the R.S. Moulding factory on Capital Drive in Wallingford. At the time of the murder, Ireland was 16 years old. Born in Meriden in 1969, Ireland lived in Wallingford, Tolland and Coventry with his mother and stepfather.

As Wallingford police struggled to find a suspect for the murder in 1987, a $20,000 reward for information on the murder was announced. After the reward was announced, several witnesses came forward incriminating Ireland, even though it is undisputed that he had never met Pelkey and had no connection to her whatsoever. After he was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison by a jury in 1989, Ireland was sent to the Somers state prison, where, according to the claim, he was surrounded by “some of the most notorious and violent killers in Connecticut.”

After Ireland appealed the conviction in 1991, the Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. Ireland was later transferred to Wallens Ridge State Prison in Virginia, and then to MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield. In 2007, the Connecticut Innocence Project reviewed Ireland’s case and requested DNA testing, which found Ireland to be innocent.

The DNA evidence led Wallingford police to arrest Kevin Benefield in December 2009. In March 2012, Benefield was convicted of the rape and murder of Pelkey and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Before 2008, the state had no standard to determine compensation for wrongful imprisonment. In 2007, the legislature passed a special act awarding James Tillman $5 million. Tillman was wrongly convicted of rape in 1989 and spent 18 years in prison. In 2008, the Compensation Act was signed into law. According to the act, the state’s claims commissioner shall order the compensation of any wrongfully imprisoned person. Since the act was signed, no wrongful imprisonment cases have come before the state, Bloss said. There are other cases pending, he said, but Ireland’s case is the furthest along. The state has until April 30 to respond to Ireland’s claim. Bloss said a recommended compensation could be determined by J. Paul Vance Jr., the claims commissioner, or a trial-like hearing could be conducted.

“I think everybody is very interested in trying to make sure the process is fair,” Bloss said.

By statute, the state must consider eight categories when determining compensation: loss of liberty and enjoyment of life, loss of earnings, loss of earning capacity, loss of familial relationships, loss of reputation, physical pain and suffering, mental pain and suffering, and attorney’s fees and other expenses.

Evan Hoffman Schouten, an economist, assisted Bloss and McElligott in determining Ireland’s compensation range.

Ireland’s economic loses include the earnings he did not receive during his incarceration, as well as “the reduced future earning that he will earn during the period after his incarceration until he retires,” Schouten wrote in a report attached to the claim.

Before his conviction, Ireland had earned his high school diploma and was accepted into the National Guard. Since his release, he has proven to be “a very hard worker,” Bloss said Thursday.

According to Schouten’s report, Ireland is three-quarters of the way toward earning a degree from Manchester Community College. Since 2011, he has held a position in the accounting department at the Capitol Region Education Council. Ireland took several accounting courses while in prison . Before his current job, he worked as a file clerk at Filomena & Co. and as an interventional specialist for the Bloomfield public schools. Ireland anticipates earning over $40,000 in 2014, Schouten wrote.

While difficult to know what his occupation might have been had he not been imprisoned, “It is evident both from Mr. Ireland’s prior, though limited, employment history and from his current work efforts that he is a man who intended to work full time throughout his life,” Schouten said. According to Schouten, Ireland deserves between $1.75 and $3 million for loss of earnings and earning capacity.

For his mental pain and suffering, Ireland is seeking $1 to $1.5 million. Ireland suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Lisa Elswit, a clinical social worker who has met with Ireland 57 times since 2011.

“He has a current and intense fear of being taken away and put in prison again,” she said.

Ireland avoids crowds and has intense anxiety, Elswit said, adding that when he first left prison and moved into an apartment, he would sleep in a closet and barricade the door.

While he’s been affected, Ireland is “not bitter or angry,” something that amazes people that talk to him, Bloss said.

Ireland attended a movie night hosted by Bloss’ law firm in Bridgeport. The movie, Bloss said, was about a man who was wrongfully imprisoned for 10 years. After the movie, Ireland stood up in front of a crowd and explained his ordeal.

“We want to believe this never happens,” Bloss said. “When confronted with a person standing in front of you, it’s very sobering. It causes deep reflection on the part of everyone who is trying to make sure the justice system acts properly.” (203) 317-2224 Twitter: @Andyragz

‘Analysis of Damages’

Loss of liberty and enjoyment of life: $2.25 to $2.75 million

Loss of earnings and earning capacity: $1.75 to $3 million

Loss of familial relationships: $200,000 to $300,000

Loss of reputation: $100,000 to $150,000

Physical pain and suffering: $250,000 to $300,000

Mental pain and suffering: $1 to $1.5 million

Total range: $5.475 to $8 million

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