After spending nearly three decades behind bars, a Connecticut man was awarded $27 million — $1 million for every year he was imprisoned — by a federal jury last Friday.
Mark Schand was sentenced to life without parole after being wrongfully convicted in the 1986 shooting death of a woman outside a club in Springfield, Massachusetts. He was just 21 years old at the time and spent decades in prison for a crime he maintains he didn’t commit.
Schand’s case caught the attention of Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that works to free those who’ve been wrongly convicted, and he was exonerated in 2013 after the organization helped uncover new evidence in the case, according to NPR. Two years later, Schand would sue the city of Springfield and four police officers he claims framed him for the deadly shooting.
When the jury read aloud the award Friday, Schand said “everybody started crying and stuff like that.”
“After all this time, this is the first time there was some acknowledgement that someone [had] done something in my wrongful conviction, someone was responsible for it,” he told the outlet. “And, you know, that was almost better than the monetary damages.”
Schand, who now owns three sandwich and smoothie shops outside his hometown of Hartford, Connecticut, was accused of killing Victoria Seymour after a stray bullet struck the mother of three during a robbery of a drug dealer in 1986 in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts. Local detectives had pegged Schand, who lived across the state line, as a “troublemaker” and slipped his photo in with those of other suspects, later presenting them to potential witnesses.
Among them were the drug dealers, brothers David and Charles “Heavy” Stokes, who picked Schand’s photo from a lineup and identified him as the gunman. In his lawsuit, he alleged Springfield investigators had “showed a photo of Schand wearing sunglasses to one of the drug dealers and told him that Schand ‘had shot Ms. Seymour,’ the Hartford Courant reported. That’s when detectives allegedly inserted Schand’s headshot into a stack of photos, handed the stack to the drug dealer and asked if he recognized the gunman. The drug dealer picked Schand’s photo.
Years later, several witnesses who had testified against him, including “Heavy” Stokes, retracted their statements, saying detectives had coerced them into lying.
Schand was officially released from prison on Oct. 4, 2013, and his conviction overturned. Initially, the state agreed to pay the wrongfully accused man $450,000. However, officials didn’t admit any wrongdoing, nor did they apologize for robbing him of 27 years of his life.
So, he took the city to court over the actions of the now-retired detectives, who he said violated his constitutional rights and landed him in jail. In his complaint, Schand accused police of hiding evidence, pressuring witnesses to lie and manipulating photo lineups of suspects.
Heather McDevitt, an attorney for the Connecticut man, cheered Friday’s ruling but said it was less about the money and more about getting justice.
“What are 27 years of a person’s life worth?’ said McDevitt, according to NPR. “That’s a very interesting philosophical question. There are experiences that can never be recreated. There’s the pain and suffering and subjection to violence and isolation and loneliness.”
Schand, 55, who’s now enjoying life with his wife and three sons, isn’t letting himself get excited about the money and said he isn’t counting on getting a penny.
“Nothing is going to change much. It’s only money, I don’t have it yet and I don’t know if I ever will,” he told the Courant, noting Springfield’s plans to appeal the decision.
The city has defended the integrity of the Seymour murder investigation.