General Assembly agrees to pay wrongly convicted man, adds judge

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

The Georgia General Assembly 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 night, the Senate approved House Resolution 73 by a 49 to 5 vote to compensate Word after he was wrongly convicted of armed robbery in 2000.

Both Sen. Josh 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 he has no objection to the stipulation.

Late Thursday the House approved the resolution including the amendment. It has to be signed by the governor to become law. Thursday was the final day of the legislative session.

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."

State Rep. Carolyn Hugley was one of the sponsors of the legislation, which failed to pass a year ago. She said Word will get his money, but the payments will not start immediately.

"I'm glad the state is going to compensate Mr. Word," Hugley said. "I hope this helps him get his life back in order."

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.

The seventh judge

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.

With Gov. Nathan Deal's approval, the legislation takes effect July 1, McKoon said. 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.

CSU gets Howard Hall funds

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, 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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