FERNDALE, Mich. — Imprisoned for more than 45 years for a murder he didn’t commit, Richard Phillips spent more time behind bars than any other wrongfully imprisoned person in America.
But after another man admitted to that murder, the Michigan native was exonerated and released from prison last March.
Now Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has announced that Phillips will receive $1.5 million in compensation for his time behind bars.
Phillips is entitled to up to $50,000 for each year he was imprisoned, according to the Michigan Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act. The money isn’t taxed, and he won’t lose any of it to attorney’s fees, his lawyer Gabi Silver told CNN.
The $1.5 million payment covers about three decades of his prison sentence because he also served time in jail on an armed robbery conviction.
Silver says she’s still fighting the armed robbery conviction. If Phillips is exonerated on that charge, his take-home haul could be even greater.
“This is great news, and was absolutely the right thing to do,” Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement. “While this compensation will not bring back the 45 years that he unjustly served in prison, it is my sincere hope that it will bring a well-deserved and fulfilling quality of life to him.”
At 73, he’s beginning a new life in a new world
Richard Phillips, who’s now 73, was just 27 when he was arrested. He was sentenced to life in prison in October 1972 without the possibility of parole.
At the time, Richard Nixon was in a reelection race against Sen. George McGovern for the presidency.
Michael Jackson’s “Ben” and Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love” were in the top five on the Billboard Hot 100. And the Detroit auto factories where Phillips worked were vibrant.
Over four decades the world changed in ways both profound and mundane.
After he was released last year, he was amazed at the number of varieties of orange juice now in grocery store aisles.
His conviction was based on false testimony
Phillips was originally convicted of murder for allegedly dragging a man named Gregory Harris out his car and shooting him to death. The victim’s brother-in-law told investigators he’d met with Phillips at a bar to discuss the murder.
But Phillips maintained his innocence. He told his attorney, “I’d rather die in prison, than admit to a murder I did not do.”
In 2010, another man, Richard Polombo, admitted he’d killed Harris. Four years later, the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan’s law school heard about Polombo’s admission. After years of legal wrangling, Phillips was granted a new trial in late 2017.
He became a free man in March 2018.
Prison walls couldn’t contain his creative spirit
Behind bars, Phillips began painting in 1990 “to stave off loneliness,” his art website says. “He painted to fill the long days. He painted to keep his heart soft and hope alive.”
His paintings became custom greeting cards he sold to other inmates. He used the proceeds to buy more art supplies.
His watercolor paintings often touched on themes of hope and survival.
With a modernist touch, he depicted floral scenes, landscapes, musicians, and delved into the world of the abstract as well. Over nearly 30 years he created a wide body of work that’s now up for sale.
Silver said Phillips is now renting an apartment but hopes to be able to buy a small home with the new money coming in and enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
One of those hopes, Silver says, is that Phillips wants to get a German Shepherd puppy.
“He is pretty well-adjusted. He says that he is not bitter,” Silver said.