HELENA — Cody Marble, exonerated in 2017 after spending more than a decade behind bars on a Missoula rape conviction, is the first person to file a claim under a new state law to compensate the wrongly convicted in Montana.
Marble, 37, who now lives in Conrad, filed the claim in late September in state District Court, starting a process under which he could be eligible for as much as $800,000 — in addition to two years of tuition assistance at a Montana state college and a year of health insurance coverage.
Yet Marble told MTN News he’s not exactly pleased about the process outlined in House Bill 92, which was substantially changed during the final days of the 2021 Legislature before it was signed into law.
One of the changes requires anyone filing a claim under HB92 to drop any lawsuit against the state or local governments or their personnel, seeking damages for the wrongful conviction. Marble sued Missoula County in federal court last year, but withdrew that suit in early September, before he filed the claim with the state, in order to comply with HB92.
In the original version of the bill, wrongfully convicted Montanans could still sue to recover damages but would have had to return any money from the claim process if they later won their lawsuit. HB92 also requires claimants to go through another trial process to prove their innocence – even though they’ve already been exonerated.
“I’m not thrilled about that, although it’s easier than what you’d have to show under a constitutional-rights case,” he said. “There is no dollar amount that could give me back that 14 years, but this is a very sorry attempt at it. … It’s protecting everybody but me.”
The new law also says claimants are supposed to get $5,000 from the State Department of Corrections (DOC) as a “transition assistance grant,” when they intend to file a claim and within 30 days of being released from imprisonment.
Marble has been out of prison since 2016 but said Thursday he has yet to receive the $5,000. DOC officials told MTN News Friday it interprets the law to mean that the $5,000 is available only to people released from prison after HB92 became law, and therefore Marble is not eligible for the money.
“While the department generally does not comment on ongoing litigation, we have reviewed Mr. Marble’s circumstances and the statutory criteria, and determined he does not meet the criteria for transition assistance funds set by the Legislature. The department understands the transition assistance to only be available to individuals released from imprisonment after HB92 became law.”
Marble was convicted in 2002 of raping a fellow inmate at the Missoula County Juvenile Detention Center. He was 18 when he was convicted.
Marble proclaimed his innocence from the beginning, saying the alleged rape never happened, and was concocted by fellow inmates to get back at him for perceived slights, or to gain an imagined advantage for their own cases.
Marble and his father, Jerry Marble, worked for years to try to overturn his conviction, and, with the help of the Montana Innocence Project, finally succeeded in 2016. He was released from prison that year and his conviction was officially erased the next year.
Marble spent most of those 14 years behind bars, either at the Montana State Prison, local jails or the privately run prison in Shelby.
The Marbles also spent many hours in 2019 and 2020, working with an interim legislative committee to draft the legislation that became HB92.
Cody Marble said Thursday he’s disappointed that Gov. Greg Gianforte and lawmakers who weren’t part of that process stepped in during the final days of the 2021 Legislature to make changes less advantageous to the wrongfully convicted.