Senate approves compensation for man wrongly convicted of Columbus robbery

CSU gets Howard Hall funds, circuit gets seventh judge

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.com, chwilliams@ledger-enquirerMarch 28, 2013 

Joe Paull jpaull@ledger-enquirer.com Lathan Word walks out of the Muscogee County Jail as his aunt, Carrie Henderson, holds the door and nephew, Curtiss Galloway, leads the way.

The Georgia Senate finally voted Thursday to pay Lathan Word $400,000 for the 11 years he spent in prison after being wrongly convicted of a Columbus robbery.

Thursday evening, the Senate by a 49 to 5 vote approved House Resolution 73 to compensate Word for the 11 years he spent in prison after being wrongly convicted of armed robbery in 2000.

Contacted by telephone at his home in Troy, Ala., Word was elated to hear the news.

“I really want to thank the state of Georgia, the capitol, all the state Senators and the governor, for their concern, for their time,” he said. “I greatly appreciate it.”

Word was convicted of armed robbery Sept. 7, 2000. He was released June 20, 2011, after a key prosecution witness recanted testimony identifying Word as the gunman who robbed Jennie & Joe’s Curb Market on Clover Lane, taking $300. Word was 18 when police arrested him Sept. 14, 1999. He was 29 when he finally walked free.

Word earlier this week said he only months ago was able to find a job in a chicken processing plant, having no work history to obtain a more skilled position. He plans to keep the job, he said Thursday upon learning his compensation was coming through.

Both McKoon and state Sen. Ed Harbison of Columbus voted for the resolution, which was amended to say Word’s compensation will be cut off if he’s ever convicted of a felony. Word said he expected that, and has no objection to the stipulation.

But that amendment means the resolution now goes back to the House for approval. The original version passed the House on March 7 by a vote of 97 yes, 58 no and 19 not voting.

Given the governor’s approval, the six-county Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit that includes Columbus will get a seventh Superior Court judge under legislation the Georgia General Assembly passed Thursday, the final day of this year’s session. With Gov. Nathan Deal’s approval, the legislation takes effect July 1, said state Sen. Josh McKoon of Columbus. Superior Court Judge John Allen said the governor will appoint the new judge. The seat will be on the ballot in 2014.

Also Thursday, the Georgia Senate approved a House bill that by law will secure the selection of a chief judge by a vote of the circuit’s Superior Court judges, a process that’s already in effect, but was challenged last year by Superior Court Judge Frank Jordan Jr., who through seniority would have become the chief judge once Allen relinquished the position.

Allen left the chief judge’s job effective Jan. 1. The judges voted last August to give the position to Gil McBride. The position carries no increase in pay, and its primary duties are administrative, such as scheduling court sessions months in advance.

The final budget agreed to by a House and Senate conference committee included $3.9 million for the renovation of Howard hall on the Columbus State University main campus.

The Senate had originally included the Howard Hall funding in its budget, but it was left out of the budget proposed by the House.

Howard Hall is one of the original buildings on the CSU campus, dating back almost 50 years. It is the primary classroom building that is utilized for many undergraduate classes.

“This is huge for CSU,” said John Lester, the university’s assistant vice president for university relations. “We have not had a capital improvement in the budget in many years. This is the first step in a plan to regenerate the academic core of our main campus.”

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