Steven Avery after release

Steven Avery reads a letter from a well-wisher in the kitchen of his parent's home Sept. 25, 2003. Avery, who spent 18 years in prison for sexual assault, was released two weeks earlier, after DNA tests proved his innocence.

Associated Press archives

A man who spent 18 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit will get a damage award of $25,000 plus attorneys fees from the state -- the maximum the law allows but only a fraction of what he requested.

In making its decision Thursday, the Wisconsin Claims Board took no position on whether Steven Avery should get the entire amount he is seeking as compensation for his time behind bars -- more than $1.1 million.

Avery, who appeared before the board, said he needs money and feels his life is still on hold despite his release more than a year ago.

Claims Board chairman Alan Lee said he believes Avery deserves more than state law currently allows -- $5,000 for each year wrongly incarcerated with a cap at $25,000, plus attorneys fees. In Avery's case, that means a total of $48,791.61.

But Lee said members wanted to wait on deciding whether to ask lawmakers to write legislation that would give Avery more than the caps allow until a task force finishes its work on possible changes in state law to better prevent wrongful convictions.

Avery can then come back to the board to request the rest of the money he believes would be just compensation.

"Because of the length of incarceration, it points out very starkly the shortcomings of the statute," Lee said.

UW-Madison professor Keith Findley, who led the effort to free Avery, said he was pleased the board left the door open to Avery seeking additional money. Still, he said the board's decision was confusing because the Avery Task Force is not addressing the $25,000 cap on compensation, nor is it expected to make a recommendation on increasing the limits on such awards.

Findley said he would continue to push for legislation that would fairly compensate Avery. "The Legislature and the state of Wisconsin really owes it to Steven to do much better than that," Findley said.

Avery was 23 in 1985 when he was sentenced to 32 years in prison for raping a woman on a Lake Michigan beach. He was released last year after the Wisconsin Innocence Project, a group of UW-Madison law students headed by Findley, pushed for DNA tests that exonerated Avery.

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