Wrongly imprisoned man who championed compensation law awarded $2.25 million

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DeMarlo Berry shortly after his 2017 release from prison. Rocky Mountain Innocence Project video
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DeMarlo Berry shortly after his 2017 release from prison. Rocky Mountain Innocence Project video

DeMarlo Berry, who was wrongfully imprisoned for more than 22 years, was granted a certificate of innocence and awarded $2.25 million in damages. 

Eighth Judicial District Court Judge Cristina Silva entered an agreement July 8 and Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford announced Wednesday he granted the agreement. The final approval is scheduled for Aug. 11 at the Board of Examiners. 

The certificate of innocence and award for damages were made possible after Nevada lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 267, which provides compensation for those wrongfully imprisoned. The Nevada District Attorneys Association opposed the bill. 

The legislation grants $50,000 per year if a person was locked up one to 10 years, $75,000 per year if they were imprisoned 11 to 20 years and $100,000 per year if they were imprisoned for more than 21 years. 

The bill also offered pathways to receive health care, tuition assistance and re-entry services and counseling.

Berry testified in front of lawmakers and shared his story of life after wrongful imprisonment. 

“I was so inspired by DeMarlo Berry during the 2019 Legislative Session when he used his personal experience to advocate for change,” Ford said in a statement. “His story helped codify Assembly Bill 267 into law, creating a lasting difference in the lives of unjustly incarcerated individuals in Nevada.”

In 1995, Berry was wrongfully convicted of killing a fast food worker based on the testimony from a jailhouse informant, who later recanted. Berry was 18 at the time. 

The death penalty was originally sought in his case. In 2013, another person confessed to the crime, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the Clark County District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit looked into the case and charges were dismissed.

Berry was finally released from prison in 2017 — dropped off in Las Vegas without any compensation, a phone to call his family or an apology for the more than two decades stolen from his life. 

A gracious Berry told lawmakers his release “felt like rebirth.”

The legislation provides a certificate of innocence and for all records to be sealed, a needed and important component Berry told lawmakers. 

When people would run a background check, Berry said they can still see the case was dismissed without explanation. He carries around paperwork to better explain the circumstances of his case and release, which Assemblywoman Brittney Miller likened to having to carry around freedom papers. 

The National Registry of Exoneration, a database managed by multiple universities, noted more than 2,400 people across the country have been found innocent, including 13 in Nevada. 

The law, which went into effect in 2019, gives people until Oct. 1 2021 to seek compensation.

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.