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Exoneree Scott Hornoff on winning state support for the wrongly convicted

On the latest edition of Rhode Island Report podcast, a former Warwick police detective who was wrongly imprisoned shares his story and his fight to help other exonerees

The Maximum Security Facility of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections.

One hundred and twenty-nine people were exonerated of crimes in the United States last year, meaning they were cleared of their guilt and set free after wrongful convictions. Former Warwick, R.I., detective Jeffrey Scott Hornoff is one such exoneree.

If the killer hadn’t been troubled by his own conscience and come forward, Hornoff would still be in prison for the murder of a former lover in 1989. In 2003, he was released, but by then had spent more than six years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.

Even though he was exonerated, Hornoff struggled to rebuild his life. Until recently, Rhode Island was one of just a handful of states — and the only New England state — that does not compensate exonerees for being wrongfully imprisoned. That changed last month, when Governor Dan McKee signed a new law that will help innocent people who’ve been wrongly convicted and imprisoned, like Hornoff.

On the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, Hornoff discusses his experience as an exoneree and his work helping to craft and push for legislation sponsored by Barrington Senator Cynthia Coyne, a former Rhode Island state trooper, and West Warwick Representative Pat Serpa to allow people who’ve been wrongly convicted to petition the presiding justice of the Superior Court for compensation and damages, including attorney’s fees.

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Hornoff plans to apply for benefits under the law himself.

“When you’re released from prison and you’re on parole or probation, you receive all kinds of services,” he explains. “When you’re in an exoneree, in a state that doesn’t have a statute that assists exonerated is all you have is what’s in your cell block. If your family has passed away or didn’t support you, you can have nowhere to go and you can be homeless. It’s really difficult.”

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“I was fortunate that I did have support from family and friends,” he says during the podcast. “I did see a couple of counselors for when they diagnosed me with situational depression and PTSD. My brother said, ‘Don’t be surprised if the Warwick police welcome you back with open arms.’ Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I had to go to court and file. I had to fight for my job back for reinstatement. There were a lot of obstacles — housing, transportation, and seeing my boys reconnecting with them. It was very challenging.”

Hornoff and advocates at the Innocence Project have been trying since 2019 to convince the General Assembly to approve this legislation. Hear more about the new law, his wrongful conviction, and how being in prison changed him by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player below:


Lylah Alphonse can be reached at lylah.alphonse@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat. Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.