Oelrich opposes money for man cleared by DNA, paralyzed teen

Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Cross Creek, talks with a fellow legislator on the Florida House floor during day one of the Florida legislative session in Tallahassee on Jan. 10, 2012.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, January 16, 2012 at 8:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 16, 2012 at 10:53 p.m.

On the first day of the legislative session, the Florida Senate approved $1.35 million in compensation to William Dillon, a man who spent 27 years in prison for a Brevard County murder before DNA evidence cleared him and led to his release in 2008.

The vote was 39-1, with state Sen. Steve Oelrich R-Cross Creek, casting the lone dissenting vote.

That same day, the Senate approved a $10.75 million settlement agreement with Eric Brody, 32, who, as a teenager in 1998, was paralyzed and sustained brain injuries when a deputy speeding to work crashed into his car.

That settlement, which will be paid out by the insurer for the Broward County Sheriff's Office, was approved 38-2, with Oelrich voting against it.

Oelrich, the former sheriff of Alachua County whose district includes much of northern Marion County, said his votes demonstrate his opposition to the state approving compensation payments.

“I am always very bothered by these cases where we give these people a lot of money,” he said.

Dillon was convicted of the 1981 murder of a man who was brutally beaten at Canova Beach in Brevard County.

The Innocence Project of Florida took up his case and had his conviction overturned after tests showed that DNA on a bloody, yellow T-shirt the killer wore did not come from Dillon.

The organization's investigation also showed that multiple witnesses were either unreliable or untruthful, and that an expert witness lacked credibility.

Oelrich said he did not feel he had sufficient information to approve the compensation for Dillon. He also said that “not guilty” is different from a finding of “innocence.”

Oelrich said he did not feel there was any “malicious intent” connected with the conviction. He said he felt that the system worked because Dillon was tried before a judge and jury and, when further evidence was brought forward, he was released.

“The state of Florida and the taxpayers of Florida giving this person $1.35 million really bothers me,” he said.

He said he took a similar position in the payment to Brody, which will not be paid with tax monies. Oelrich said he felt the deputy involved, who was late for work and speeding, was “careless” but displayed no malicious intent.

Oelrich said he was not sure if the time he spent in law enforcement played a role in his decision but that it is possible.

“I just have a problem with these settlements,” he said. “I will almost always vote no on these.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Contact Christopher Curry at 374-5088 or chris.curry@gvillesun.com.

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