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Law planned to compensate ex-inmates

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt walked up to Anthony J. Capozzi's sister, Sharyn Miller, and gave her a hug, offering to help their family in any way he could.

State Sen. Dale M. Volker approached Miller's husband, Bill, and said: "I'm sorry. It's the least we can do."

The two state lawmakers want to give the Capozzis more than hugs and assurances. They want to give them "Anthony's Law" -- named for the state's most famous exonerated man.

Flanked by three other state lawmakers, Volker and Hoyt announced Friday they have introduced legislation to help Capozzi and other unjustly imprisoned people move to the front of the line in seeking compensation from the state.

"It's a bigger deal than it seems," Volker, a Depew Republican, said earlier.

Capozzi's case for state compensation, once attorney Thomas C. D'Agostino puts it together, will go to the State Court of Claims. Such cases routinely take about four years to be heard and settled, the two lawmakers said.

"His case could be sitting there for four or five years," said Hoyt, a Buffalo Democrat. "Dale Volker and I don't want a single day to pass before he can get his case heard. We want to move him to the front of the line."

Both said they believe the bill very likely will become law before the end of this year.

No one could put a price tag on how much the state might pay Capozzi for his almost 22 years of false imprisonment, following his September 1985 arrest. Capozzi was convicted on two rape charges and imprisoned until DNA evidence exonerated him and led to his April 3 release.

Hoyt noted that, even at $100 a day, the figure would total only $800,000. Volker cited a potential figure in the millions, "perhaps a couple of million."

But as both lawmakers suggested, how do you put a price tag on a life, or on a day in prison for an innocent man?

Sharyn Miller recently went through photos of occasions Capozzi had not been able to share, including birthdays and their parents' 50th wedding anniversary.

"It was heartbreaking, to think of all the things he missed," she said.

But since Capozzi's release, family members said they were very pleased at the treatment he has received as an inpatient at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. He also makes regular visits home.

"The simple things that he is experiencing, just a trip to the supermarket, has been awesome for him," Sharyn Miller said. "He's like a kid in a candy store."

Capozzi even attended a Sabres game, where he was treated like a hero.

"He felt like he was a celebrity, probably like one of the Sabres," his sister said.

The Capozzis, who never have flashed a moment of public bitterness over the innocent man's almost 22 years in prison, seemed thrilled Friday about the possibility of a law named in his honor.

"Anthony's Law" would help reward family members, including his parents, Albert and Mary, for their more than two decades of belief in their son's innocence.

"To know that this law will be in Anthony's name, that he's going to represent other people who have been exonerated and are going to receive something in return, it's just a [validation] of their faith and conviction," Bill Miller said.

Flanking Volker and Hoyt were Assemblymen Michael W. Cole, R-Alden, and Robin L. Schimminger, D-Kenmore, and State Sen. Antoine M. Thompson, D-Buffalo.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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