Tuesday, January 06, 2015

When compensation doesn't compensate: man dies four months after state pays him $7.5 million for wrongful conviction

Dan Gristwood, an Oswego County man who won $7.5 million from New York state four months ago for being imprisoned over someone else's crime, has died. Gristwood, 48, died of lung cancer Saturday afternoon, said his brother, Jerry Gristwood. At least one of Dan's five children was with him at Upstate Medical University when he died, his brother said.

A state judge awarded Dan Gristwood $5.5 million in May 2013, finding that in 1996 state troopers coerced him into falsely confessing to attacking his wife, Christina, with a hammer in their Clay apartment.

Troopers questioned Gristwood for 16 hours before he gave the false confession. He spent nine years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, state Court of Claims Judge Nicholas Midey ruled.

The state appealed Midey's ruling, delaying Gristwood's receiving the money for 16 months. By the time the state paid him in September 2014, interest had increased the amount to $7.5 million.

Gristwood had only four months to spend it. "He didn't get a chance to enjoy things as much as he wanted," his brother said. "But he did get a little bit of enjoyment."

An Onondaga County Court jury convicted Gristwood in 1996 of trying to murder his wife by attacking her with a hammer as she slept. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. But in 2003, the real attacker, Mastho Davis, came forward and confessed. Two years later, Gristwood was freed.

Christina Gristwood, who suffered a brain injury in the attack, divorced him while he was in prison. She died last year.

Gristwood spent the past decade a free man. But he was still bitter at the state troopers who'd gotten him to confess to a crime he didn't commit.

In an interview with Syracuse.com and The Post-Standard two years ago, Gristwood bemoaned the fact that none of the four troopers who'd interrogated him was ever punished.

""I don't have grudges against the state police," he said. "There are good state troopers. But then you always get the few (expletives) who don't want to do their jobs, just straight up have an attitude, thinking they're better than everybody else."

That sentiment was the only one Gristwood expressed to his brother in recent years about the case. "He just wished that somehow they could've felt a little piece of the pain that he felt," Jerry Gristwood said today.

Dan Gristwood was diagnosed with lung cancer about five months ago, shortly before he received the money from the state, his brother said. Dan was a smoker before he went to prison and continued smoking behind bars and after his release, his brother said.

After he was diagnosed with cancer, Dan told his brother he wanted to live, and underwent chemotherapy and other treatments until doctors told him it was futile. "He was fighting it as hard as he could," Jerry Gristwood said.

Dan married his new wife, Stacey, in August, Jerry Gristwood said. She was at the hospital when he died.

Dan bought a new pickup truck and camper with some of the state money. He and Stacey and a friend went on a trip to North Carolina to see a big NASCAR race in October. They drove to Houston to visit two friends of Gristwood's from high school, Jerry Gristwood said.

Dan's favorite holiday had always been Christmas, and he knew this was going to be his last, his brother said. His five adult children and his grandchildren were at his house for Christmas dinner.

"I talked to him on Christmas day and he was really ecstatic," Jerry Gristwood said. "Everyone was there. Despite what was going on, he focused on them."

Gristwood told Syracuse.com and The Post-Standard in September that he planned to put about 90 percent of the state money, or $4.4 million after lawyers' fees were deducted, into trusts for his five children. His brother said Gristwood carried out that plan.

The wrongful conviction and imprisonment turned Gristwood into an angry man for a long time, but in recent years he was moving on with his life, his brother said. "He let some of it go, but I think there was always that bitterness," Jerry Gristwood said. "It tempered off because he was trying to forget everything that happened."

His nine years in prison and his fight with the state afterward didn't change Gristwood in one way, his brother said. He was always ready to help someone who needed it, Jerry Gristwood said.

"He had a very big heart," Jerry Gristwood said. "He would give his shirt off his back to someone who needed it, who truly needed it. He was just that type of guy. That never changed."

Original report here

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