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Corrections Dept relents on initial $5K grant to exonerated man

Grant part of payments to wrongfully convicted
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Posted at 2:52 PM, Feb 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-03 11:28:27-05

HELENA — The state Corrections Department has changed course and paid an exonerated Montana man his $5,000 “transition assistance grant,” as he attempts to become the first person to gain state compensation for a wrongful conviction, under a new law.

Cody Marble, 37, of Conrad, said he received the payment late last month – seven weeks after the Corrections Department initially told MTN News he wasn’t eligible for the money.

However, Marble said this week he had yet to receive or get any response about a rental voucher the law says he should get while his case is under way.

The Department of Corrections told MTN News Wednesday it plan to pay Marble a rental voucher for three months, as directed under state law.

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Cody Marble (left) of Conrad, exonerated on a rape conviction after 14 years in the Montana prison system, speaks last year before an interim committee drafting a bill to compensate those wrongly convicted. He's the first person to file a claim under the new law.

Marble, convicted of rape in Missoula in 2002, was exonerated in 2017 after spending more than a decade behind bars. He denied the crime ever happened, saying he’d been set up by fellow inmates at the county juvenile detention center.

Last spring, the Montana Legislature passed House Bill 92, which created a process under which people wrongly convicted and imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit can get compensation from the state.

Marble became the first person to file a claim under HB92, in late September in state District Court in Missoula. Marble could be eligible for as much as $800,000 – in addition to two years of tuition assistance at a Montana state college and a year of health-insurance coverage.

The new law also says claimants are supposed to get $5,000 from the state Department of Corrections as a “transition assistance grant,” when they intend to file a claim and within 30 days of being released from imprisonment. Yet two months after Marble filed the claim, he had not received the money.

In response to an inquiry from MTN News, state Corrections officials last December said Marble was not eligible for the grant, because it was meant only for people released from prison after the new law took effect. Marble had been released from prison in 2016.

But about three weeks later, Corrections officials reversed course, saying Marble would get the $5,000 if he provided “specific documents” – which he had done.

Marble said had to sign a waiver of any other claims against the state and complete a 1099 tax form, so the payment could be reported to the Internal Revenue Service.

The law also says the state “shall provide a housing voucher” to any claimant, while a claim is pending. Marble said neither he nor his landlord had received any response about the rental voucher.

A Corrections spokeswoman said the agency will pay the voucher, but only for three months, as laid out in a separate law on probationers and parolees. The compensation law references that law.

In order to be eligible for a claim, Marble had to drop a federal court lawsuit against the state and Missoula County, seeking damages for his wrongful conviction. He also must prove his innocence in the case, in a legal process before District Court.