Freed From Prison By UT Law Students, Claude Simmons Finally Fully Cleared

Heartening news on an Alcalde story subject today: Claude Simmons, who spent 12 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, has had his exoneration upheld by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

This was the final step in getting his name officially cleared. Simmons has been out of prison since last fall. In our March/April story on him, “Life, Interrupted,” we’d already referred to him as “an exoneree.” The Actual Innocence Clinic at The University of Texas’ Law School already had established that he hadn’t committed the crime; the police, the Dallas County District Attorney’s office, and the trial court had agreed.

The case wasn’t truly closed, though, until the higher court agreed as well.

The criminal appeals court issued a short document on Tuesday. The trial court and the state had contended that Simmons (“the applicant,” they called him) was actually innocent, and recommended that the state court grant relief, the court said.

“We agree,” the judges wrote simply. “Accordingly, relief is granted.”

Relief is the right word, Simmons says: “It’s just a relief not to have it hanging over my head.”

As late as Friday, when Simmons and his family came to Austin for a party celebrating the release of the March/April Alcalde, he said that he still felt ill at ease. After everything that happened, he didn’t trust that they could never take him back to prison.

His advocate, Natalie Ellis, called him Tuesday with the unexpected news about the criminal appeals court’s decision — she’d seen it reported online. His attorney, Tiffany Dowling of the Actual Innocence Clinic, called and confirmed it was true.

The full exoneration clears the way for Simmons to apply for compensation, as well as counseling and education, from the state. He’s eligible for $80,000 for each year he was imprisoned.

Bureaucracy being bureaucracy, however, he still won’t receive it right away. His attorneys tell him to expect it to take 30 to 90 days for everything to be processed.


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