In 1972, Richard Phillips, then 27-years-old, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Gregory Harris. He was accused of shooting Harris to death after pulling him out of his car. Harris’ brother-in-law said he had met with Harris about the murder.
Phillips said he was innocent, and told his attorney he’d “rather die in prison than admit to a murder I did not do,” according to his personal website.
For 45 years, Phillips sat behind bars in a Michigan prison, where he developed a talent for water-color painting and would paint greeting cards to sell to his fellow inmates. His personal website now offers his art to the general public.
In 2010, a man named Richard Polombo admitted to murdering Harris. It took another four years for the Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan Law School to learn of the confession. Three years after that, now late into 2017, Phillips received a new trial. In March 2018, he was released from prison.
CNN reported that Phillips “spent more time behind bars than any other wrongfully imprisoned person in America.” The media outlet also reported that Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced that Phillips is entitled to $1.5 million for his wrongful conviction.
“Phillips is entitled to up to $50,000 for each year he was imprisoned, according to the Michigan Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act. The money isn't taxed, and he won't lose any of it to attorney's fees, his lawyer Gabi Silver told CNN,” the outlet reported. “The $1.5 million payment covers about three decades of his prison sentence because he also served time in jail on an armed robbery conviction.”
Silver told CNN she was also fighting the armed robbery conviction, hoping to get Phillips another 15 years’ worth of compensation — another $750,000.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy released a statement, included in the CNN article, praising Phillips’ compensation.
“This is great news, and was absolutely the right thing to do," Worthy said. "While this compensation will not bring back the 45 years that he unjustly served in prison, it is my sincere hope that it will bring a well-deserved and fulfilling quality of life to him."
For Phillips, he appears to be focusing on his art and learning how the world of today works. His attorney told CNN that Phillips was renting an apartment and plans to use his compensation money to purchase a small home and, hopefully, a German Shepherd puppy.
Surprisingly, despite being wrongfully imprisoned for nearly two-thirds of his life, the 73-year-old Michigan native doesn’t appear bitter, his attorney told CNN.
"He is pretty well-adjusted. He says that he is not bitter," Silver told the outlet.
The Detroit News reported that Phillips’ compensation still needs to be approved by the Michigan Legislature, but he’s remaining humble.
"I just want to keep a low profile, travel and enjoy life," Phillips said Friday after he was told about his compensation. "That’s what I wanted to do in the first place."
Nessel also announced $820,000 would go to two other former prisoners who were exonerated.