MADISON, Wis. — A man who spent 25 years in prison in connection with a 1992 homicide wants the state to pay him nearly $6 million, according to documents filed with the Wisconsin Claims Board.
Derrick Sanders, now 48, is demanding $5.7 million. He argued he was wrongfully convicted of participating in Jason Bowie's shooting death in Milwaukee. Prosecutors dropped the charges last year after a circuit judge tossed out his conviction.
State law limits compensation for wrongful convictions to $25,000. Sanders wants that money plus damages, arguing his incarceration resulted in the loss of liberty, property, earnings and reputation. He maintains that when he was arrested he was working full-time, had no criminal records and had been honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy, according to documents filed with the claims board.
The claims board is scheduled to consider Sanders' case during a meeting Thursday in the state Capitol. The board is typically the first stop for people seeking redress from the state. Rejection of their claims at this level clears the way for filing lawsuits.
According to a case summary the board released, Sanders, Anthony Boddie and John Peavy attacked Bowie in November 1992, beating him at two different houses. At some point Boddie and Peavy took Bowie to an abandoned house where Boddie shot him in the head.
Sanders' latest attorney, Rex Anderegg, said Boddie was upset because Bowie had burglarized Boddie's girlfriend's house.
Boddie pleaded guilty to first-degree intentional homicide and Peavy pleaded guilty to being a party to first-degree intentional homicide. Sanders pleaded no contest to being a party to first-degree intentional homicide. He was convicted in 1993 and sentenced to life in prison.
Sanders maintained he wasn't involved in the shooting or even knew it had happened. He has argued that his attorney was ineffective because he didn't explain the meaning of being a party to a crime and his no-contest plea wasn't intelligently entered because he didn't understand the punishment he could face.
A state appellate court agreed with him in 1995. The court tossed out his plea and sent the case back to circuit court. Sanders' new attorney had him re-enter the same no-contest plea in 1996. The documents don't explain why. Anderegg said he believed Sanders' attorney at the time thought Sanders couldn't win the case or improve his sentence.
Sanders continued to pursue an appeal on his own from prison, Anderegg said. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Wagner finally threw out the plea in August 2018, finding prosecutors couldn't show that Sanders knew what he was doing when he entered it and that he understood what being a party to a crime meant. Anderegg said the judge also decided the facts of the case didn't support a homicide charge against Sanders.
"It would be manifestly unjust if the defendant were to remain convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, party to a crime, and therefore, he must be allowed to withdraw his plea," Wagner said.
Prosecutors dropped the charges in September 2018, telling the judge that they had asked police to re-interview Boddie again in August and Boddie said that he alone took Bowie into the abandoned house's basement and shot him. Anderegg said prosecutors felt the case was too old to continue to pursue and Peavy, a key witness, is dead.
The claims board documents state that prosecutors don't oppose granting Sanders the full $5.7 million.
"I think he was wrongfully convicted," Anderegg said. "I think there's some responsibility there (on the part of the state)."