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Acquitted murder suspect plans $13 million wrongful imprisonment claim

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Wayne T. Oxley Jr. plans to file a $13 million claim against the state for wrongful imprisonment following his acquittal in his third St. Lawrence County murder trial in February.

“Guess what, he didn’t do it,” said Lawrence N. Gray, Kings Park, a co-counsel for Mr. Oxley in his first trial.

A 13-page claim for damages indicates the Heuvelton man will seek $7.8 million in damages for wrongful imprisonment — $3 million per year for the 2.6 years he spent in state prison once convicted — in addition to $5.2 million for emotional pain and suffering and $78,000 for lost past and future wages. The Times received a copy of the claim Sunday from Mr. Gray, who nonetheless said he is not representing Mr. Oxley now in his civil suit.

Mr. Oxley, when reached by telephone Sunday night, said he had not yet filed the legal papers with the state Court of Claims and attorney general’s office but plans to do so this week.

A former Ogdensburg resident, Mr. Oxley was accused of beating his neighbor Bernard A. Trickey Jr. to death with a wooden baseball bat in 2005. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 2006, but an appellate court sent the case back for retrial. A second trial ended with a hung jury; in his third trial, in February, a St. Lawrence County Court jury acquitted him.

Mr. Gray, who argued the case to the state appeals court that granted Mr. Oxley a second trial but did not work on the subsequent trials, said he has “kind of stayed in loose contact” and recently received an emailed copy of the planned state claim. The attorney said he has no formal connection to the proposed action but did informally review it, then told Mr. Oxley he would contact the media.

The expected filing indicates Mr. Oxley plans to act as a pro-se claimant, meaning he would represent himself in court.

It cites the Unjust Conviction and Imprisonment Act of 1984 as the basis for damages from the state.

Mr. Gray said he believes Mr. Oxley’s claim for remuneration is “reasonable and fair” but said the state could argue that the case was handled correctly and public policy would not warrant such an award.

“A reasonable argument could be made for either side,” he said.

As for the amount of the claim, Mr. Gray said it is typical to ask for a large sum in a claim but suggested it would be difficult to place a dollar figure on lost time owing to imprisonment.

“Forced into a corner, the law will put a number on it,” he said.

Mr. Oxley’s proposed claim details his case and reiterates in several places that he had steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout.

“No act of Mr. Oxley contributed to or caused his unjust and erroneous conviction,” the claim states.

According to the proposed filing, Mr. Oxley’s conviction and imprisonment caused him to suffer, among other things, lost contact with his children and family members, income, retirement pension and savings, privacy and personal freedoms, along with humiliation, embarrassment and degradation.

While not professionally involved in the new claim, Mr. Gray said he remains sympathetic to Mr. Oxley’s cause and still contends his initial trial was unfair.

“During that first trial, I felt like Atticus Finch,” he said, referring to the attorney protagonist in the classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” who represents a black murder suspect before a racially biased court system and jury.

Mr. Gray also has filed a 38-page complaint to the Commission on Judicial Conduct against Judge Jerome J. Richards, alleging the county judge threatened defense witness Michelle A. Disotell with perjury charges in the latest trial.

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