PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A former Warwick police officer who served six years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit is now hopeful Rhode Island will enact a wrongful conviction compensation law.
Scott Hornoff was convicted of the murder of Victoria Cushman in 1996. Cushman was found dead inside her Warwick apartment in 1989.
She and Hornoff, then a Warwick police officer, had been having an affair. He maintained his innocence but was convicted by a jury and sentenced to life in prison.
Hornoff served more than six years before Todd Barry confessed to the crime. Hornoff was released days later.
“I touched a patch of grass,” Hornoff said, remembering his first moments of freedom. “I hadn’t touched a blade of grass for six-and-a-half years.”
Hornoff settled with his former employer, the Warwick Police Department, for $600,000 in back pay which he said went to his attorneys and ex-wife. He said he also receives a roughly $60,000 per year disability pension.
Hornoff said he’s grateful for what he has but thinks Rhode Island should do more for those who are imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit.
This summer, he contacted his state representative, Patricia Serpa, to work on a piece of legislation that would allow Rhode Island to compensate exonorees. According to the Innocence Project, 33 other states, Washington D.C. and the federal government already have similar measures in place.
Serpa has sponsored a bill that would allow anyone sentenced to a year or more of prison time following a wrongful conviction “to petition the presiding justice of the superior court for an award of compensation and damages, including attorney’s fees.” The bill specifies an award of $50,000 per each year of imprisonment.
“Even though it may not sound like a lot of money it would help a lot,” Hornoff said. “My family was financially devastated.”
Hornoff said he remembers the day the jury delivered their verdict. He remembers Victoria Cushman’s family applauding while his own mother slumped in her chair.
“They led me to my cell block, took off my shoelaces and my belt, strip-searched me and eventually took me to intake service center where I stayed for five-and-a-half years before being transferred to high security for the last year,” he recalled.
When he was finally released in late 2002, he said he was offered no assistance and little guidance.
“It’s unfortunate, people who commit crimes in Rhode Island and are released are paroled, they actually receive more services, exonorees receive nothing,” he said. “They just opened the door for me.”
Serpa hopes to change that this legislative session.
“I believe in justice, and when someone commits a crime I believe that they should pay their dues to society,” she said. “But by the same token, I also believe that when we as a society wrong innocent individuals, in turn, we owe them something, too.”
Serpa’s bill has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing. She said Sen. Cynthia Coyne is expected to submit a similar bill. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Peter Neronha said the office is reviewing the legislation.