New York Judge Awards $250K to Wrongly Imprisoned Woman

July 24, 2009

A woman falsely implicated by New York police in a gruesome 1989 multiple murder is entitled to more than $250,000 in compensation for the nearly 2 1/2 years she spent behind bars, a New York Court of Claims judge has ruled.

The award was based on the emotional and mental anguish suffered by Shirley Kinge and her loss of privacy and liberty while imprisoned, Judge Nicholas Midey Jr. said.

In a February 2008 ruling, Midey found that the 73-year-old Kinge was the victim of malicious prosecution and negligent supervision of a state police investigator who planted phony fingerprint evidence and gave false testimony linking her to the Harris family slayings in 1989.

“The decision was fair. As for the amount she was awarded, it’s something we’ll have to discuss with our client,” Norman Spindelman, Kinge’s lawyer, said Tuesday.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office, which represented the state, had no immediate comment about the award.

Authorities contended Kinge helped her son, Michael Kinge, cover up the killings of Warren and Dolores Harris and their two children, Shelby, 15, and Marc, 11. The victims were found bound, shot to death and burned in their Dryden home three days before Christmas 1989. Dryden is 40 miles south of Syracuse.

Michael Kinge was shot to death by troopers when they tried to arrest him for the murders in February 1990.

Shirley Kinge, who now lives in Charlotte, N.C., was convicted in 1990 of burglary, arson, hindering prosecution, forgery and possessing stolen property. She was sentenced to 18 to 44 years.

The conviction was overturned in September 1992 after the revelation that state police planted her fingerprint on a gasoline can found at the crime scene. She was freed from prison and allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of forging the Harrises’ signatures on a stolen credit card.

Kinge originally sued New York for $500 million.

Midey said the law doesn’t allow assessing punitive damages against the state, so his award covered only actual damages. He also added 9 percent annual interest starting from December 2007.

Kinge sought compensation for emotional distress and mental anguish, physical pain and discomfort, damage to her reputation and deprivation of her liberty and right to privacy.

However, Midey noted that Kinge did not come to his court with “clean hands,” noting that she admitted using the stolen credit card and forging Dolores Harris’ name.

“Based upon her conduct … the claimant must therefore bear full responsibility for any damage to her reputation which may have occurred,” he wrote.

Kinge testified on her own behalf at a two-day compensation hearing in March. Following her imprisonment, she said she became deeply depressed, extremely withdrawn and fearful of leaving her home.

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