Hugh McQuaid File Photo
A man wrongfully convicted of murder and rape received $6 million and an apology from Connecticut Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr.

Vance issued the $6 million award and apology to Kenneth Ireland Thursday in a decision. Ireland spent 21 years in prison before he was exonerated.

“While this decision attempts to compensate Mr. Ireland for the time that he was wrongfully [im]prisoned, no words or dollar amount will suffice to give him back the time that he lost and the misery that he endured,” Vance wrote. “I offer my sincerest apologies to Mr. Ireland for the burden that he was forced to suffer and I wish him the best of luck.

Ireland’s attorneys had recommended a range of between $5.5 and $8 million during his hearing in July. The state did not object.

Ireland told Vance during his hearing in July that he had convinced himself he would be killed in prison rather than have his hopes of exoneration dashed repeatedly during his 21 years behind bars.

“I was resigned I was going to die in prison, either of old age or more likely, in a violent altercation,” he said.

Ireland was eventually exonerated, thanks to the Connecticut Innocence Project, which re-tested DNA evidence from the 1986 rape and murder of Barbara Pelkey. The evidence pointed to another man and Ireland was released in 2009.

By then, Ireland had been behind bars a long time. He was 18 when he was arrested at work, still wearing his Subway restaurant uniform. He was 39 by the time he walked free from a courthouse in New Haven.

In October, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy appointed Ireland to the Board of Pardon and Paroles. Last week, the Judiciary Committee voted 39-0 to send his nomination to the General Assembly for approval.

“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 Thursday. “Nothing could ever replace the two decades of life as a free man that were wrongfully taken away from him, separated from his family and friends.”

University of Connecticut Law School Dean Timothy Fisher, who founded the Connecticut Innocence Fund and assisted Ireland in his fight for freedom, said “this welcome and long-awaited decision does more than give some modest measure of compensation for a terrible injustice. It helps us as a state reaffirm our values, and say to ourselves and the world that we believe in justice. Connecticut is showing that we can take an honest look at our criminal justice system and find ways to correct its mistakes and shortcomings.”

In 2007, the General Assembly and former Gov. M. Jodi Rell awarded James Tillman $5 million for his wrongful conviction. Tillman spent 18 years behind bars.

The legislature, under a law passed in 2008, does not have to approve Ireland’s award.