When he was 22 years old, Ted Bradford had a wife, two small children and a good job at a mill in Yakima.
On April 1, 1996, everything changed. As he and family were getting ready to watch a movie, the police came to Bradford's door, setting into motion a series of events that culminated with Bradford being convicted of rape.
By the end of the year, he was far from his family, locked in a cell at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla.
Bradford served his full sentence, spending nine years in three different state prisons and two years on parole.
While he was doing time, Bradford, now 37, lost a lot. His son was 2 years old when he went in, and his daughter was nine months.
"I wasn't there to see my daughter learn how to walk, to see them going to school and growing up," Bradford said from the home he shares with his girlfriend in Yakima. While he was in prison, Bradford's wife divorced him.
The state would one day learn what Bradford always knew: that he was innocent. In February 2010, Bradford was exonerated of the crime. It was about 14 years too late.
By the time legal advocates helped him clear his name, Bradford had already served his entire sentence and been out of prison for five years.
Since his release, Bradford has had trouble finding work, and his jobs have only been temporary. The last job he had was installing insulation, but that only lasted two weeks.
He now lives in Yakima with his girlfriend and says he's only got about $1.50 in his bank account.
State Rep. Tina Orwall wants to boost Bradford's bank balance, and those of others like him, in order to tip scales of justice back in favor of those who've been wrongfully imprisoned.
This week, Orwall (D-Des Moines) plans to introduce House Bill 1435, which would enable people like Bradford and three other men exonerated of wrongful convictions to file a claim against Washington State for $50,000 a year for each year they were in prison.
Exonerated inmates, past or future, could file a claim in superior court. If a court agrees they are innocent, the bill authorizes $50,000 for each year of imprisonment, $50,000 a year for each year a wrongfully convicted person spent on death row and $25,000 a year for each year a person had to register as a sex offender, a parolee or in community custody.
"When you think about people losing 10 or 15 years of their lives serving time for a crime they didn't commit, it seems like such a great injustice," Orwall said. "Though we can't ever make up for what they've lost, we can help them rebuild their lives."
Once they are cleared, exonerated inmates are no longer entitled to the services or job training offered to other released convicts, Orwall said.
They can rarely sue the state for the years they lost. Police and prosecutors have legal immunity from such cases. Unless inmates can prove that authorities deliberately violated their constitutional rights, they have no course of action, said Lara Zarowsky, an attorney with the state's Innocence Project affiliate at the University of Washington law school.
Orwall based the bill on work done by the Innocence Project, which worked to exonerate the men. In three of the cases, they used retested DNA evidence to categorically prove the state had the wrong man.
Under Orwall's bill, the exonerated would not be able file claims for the money until 2014.
A competing bill, SB 5139, introduced by Sen. Jim Hargrove (D-Hoquiam), would pay a flat $20,000 for each year of imprisonment, but would take effect 90 days after passage.
The idea of reparations to the wrongfully convicted isn't new. The federal government, 27 states and the District of Columbia already compensate exonerated inmates, Zarowsky said.
Many states follow the federal benchmark of $50,000 a year and $100,000 for each year on death row, as in Orwall's bill. A Texas law passed in 2009 is the gold standard, Zarowsky said. It pays $80,000 a year for each year of wrongful imprisonment.
Texas takes it further. In addition to whatever the lump-sum payment it is, Texas also buys an annuity equal to that amount. After one year, the annuity starts paying the exonerated inmate a monthly income.
Zarowsky said criminal justice advocates hadn't pressed for legislation in Washington State because until now they had no proof that anyone in the state had ever been wrongfully convicted.
That changed last year. In 2010, courts in the state cleared Bradford and two other inmates, Larry Davis and Alan Northrop, thanks to the Innocence Project's efforts.
Davis and Northrop each served 17 years for a Clark County rape they did not commit. Another man, James Anderson, was cleared of an armed robbery in Tacoma after the state of California finally released paperwork showing he was in California at the time of the crime.
No one knows how common wrongful convictions are. Zarowsky said she's heard estimates that anywhere from 0.5 percent to 10 percent of all people in prison are incarcerated without just cause.
The national Innocence Project conducted a study of 265 DNA exonerations and found that in 75 percent of those cases, mistakes by the authorities led to the wrongful conviction.
Zarowsky said police and prosecutors often just get stuck in a mindset that they've got their man and build a case around that assumption, excluding evidence that doesn't fit.
"I think it's more common than people suspect," Zarowsky said of false convictions.
Bradford lost nine years of his life. Today, he has no job, no car and few prospects. Nonetheless, he's far from bitter. He said he's thankful his ex-wife, mother and sister greeted him at the gates of the prison when he got out and that he has family members who continue to help him get by in Yakima.
He currently spends his days babysitting for a 2-year-old niece. He also draws portraits and plays bass guitar. Music and art kept him going in prison and he hopes one day they can help him make a little money, perhaps by selling portraits or by starting a small recording studio.
Bradford has a sense of humor about his predicament but what he lacks is practical job skills or money to acquire them.
If Orwall's bill passes, Bradford could collect a total of $500,000 for his nine years in prison and two years of having to register as a sex offender.
He'd like to use part of the money to go back to school and learn a trade. He could use a car, too, he said.
In the fact that he gained his freedom in the midst of a recession, Bradford sees dark humor. With a genuine laugh, he jokes, "I picked the wrong time to be free and clear and to get a good job."