Leesville exoneree trying to draw attention to compensation issues in state

LEESVILLE -- A Leesville man who spent 26 years in Angola for a crime he didn't commit is trying to draw attention to exoneration compensation issues in the state.

Rickie Johnson, 58, was exonerated in 2008 on a rape conviction. DNA evidence proved his innocence in a case that originated out of Sabine Parish.

Johnson received around $250,000 in compensation. He used that money to try to rebuild his life. After prison, he had no possessions.

But Johnson is not eligible for Social Security, retirement or health benefits. He is joining with other exonerees in the state to bring attention to the issue. The exonerees plan to lobby state lawmakers.

"We really need it. It's not a want, it's a need. Right now, they have guys who have got out of prison, exonerees. They have spent their little money and they are homeless. It shouldn't be like that," Johnson said.

Johnson owns a leather shop off Nolan Trace in Leesville. It's a trade he learned in Angola.

When he was first released, Johnson received $150,000 -- then he received the remaining $100,000 later. Some area lawmakers helped get that additional money.

"When that runs out, we're own our own," Johnson said.

"When I was first compensated, I got $150,000. I couldn't buy a house and a car. I couldn't buy a house anyway so I bought me a car to get around in. I put most of the money in this little business I have right here. I had been locked up for a quarter of a century. There is no way I can get a job and retire," he continued.

Some other states, including Texas, provide for exonerees' futures for the years they spent in prison when they could have been working toward building financial security.

"Texas gives an annuity -- those guys, they get a check every month for the rest of their lives. That secures them. We don't have any security in Louisiana," Johnson said. "We didn't have time to build our futures."

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