Christine Stuart photo
The House voted 148-0 to award $5 million to James Tillman, who was wrongfully convicted and served more than 18 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit.

The bill was immediately transferred to the Senate where it was expected to pass.

Although the House vote was unanimous in the end, at least two legislators, Reps. Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, and Peter Panaroni Jr., D-Branford, left “no” votes on the board for several minutes before changing their minds and joining their colleagues in support of the bill shortly before voting was closed.

Panaroni refused to comment on why he changed his vote.

Aresimowicz said he temporarily opposed the bill during the voting period because he felt that the legislature needed to set up a process to calculate future compensation for wrongful convictions before possibly setting a precedent with Tillman’s case.

There is separate legislation pending that would create an advisory board to calculate compensation for people wrongly convicted, but it has yet to come up for a vote.

“I had apprehension taking part in a process when there were remedies available to him,” Aresimowicz said. By remedies, Aresimowicz means Tillman had the ability to sue the state and city for its alleged negligence in his arrest and conviction. Tillman had agreed not file any claim against the state if it awarded him the lump sum of $5 million. 

Rep. Kenneth Green, D-Hartford, said if Tillman had decided to go forward with his claim, the state could have ended up awarding him more than $5 million after years of litigation. But Mr. Tillman wants closure, so he is willing to settle for $5 million, “even though I wish it would be more,” Green said.

Speaker of the House James Amann, D-Milford, said “Make no mistake, no amount of money will erase this miscarriage of justice.”

Tillman watch the House debate his bill for more than an hour. When the debate was over a teary-eyed Tillman and his mother walked up to the Speaker’s podium to thank the legislators who greeted the two with hugs and kisses.