Judge limits liability for Dwayne Dail

The mother of Dwayne Dail's son will get only a small cut, if any, of the $360,000 the state owes him for 18 years of wrongful imprisonment, a judge ruled late Thursday.

Wayne County District Court Judge David B. Brantley will decide at a later hearing just how much Lorraine Michaels, Dail's former girlfriend, can collect for back child support, said Dail's attorney, Shelby Benton.

Michaels filed a lawsuit in October, saying she wanted some of the $360,000 Dail is due from the state for his wrongful imprisonment. Michaels said she is owed the money as back pay for raising their son, Chris, by herself.

Brantley ordered Thursday that she can only collect for the past three years, not the full 18, Benton said. At a future hearing, Michaels will have to prove her full expenses in order to collect anything. At most, Dail would have to fork over $11,000, Benton said, though Benton will argue that Dail owes nothing because he had no income while in prison.

Michaels' attorney, Sarah Heekin, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Dail and Michaels lived together in the fall of 1987 when a 12-year-old girl pointed to Dail and said he was the stranger who had broken into her room and raped her. The two were still a couple in March 1989 when Dail stood trial on the rape charges.

Unknown to everyone, Michaels was newly pregnant with Chris.

A judge ordered Dail to prison for life, and Michaels raised Chris alone. The relationship between her and Dail soured over the years, although Dail kept in touch with Chris through letters and sporadic prison visits.

Dail was set free in August after a DNA test performed on a forgotten piece of evidence proved he was innocent.

The father and son reunited this fall, a few weeks shy of Chris' 18th birthday. Chris moved to south Florida to live with his father; the two now bunk in a modest home that three generations of Dails share.

The lawsuit has infuriated Dail.

"I just wish she'd have done it in a way that we could have remained civil with each other," Dail said Thursday night. "If she'd have simply asked, I'd have given her much more."

Chris won't pick sides and refuses to testify in the case.

'A meager amount'

Dail said the state's check is a meager amount, and he worries it won't be enough to help him get established after losing half his life in prison. He intends to buy a house, pay off a car loan and send himself and his son to college.

The lawsuit has brought to center stage a quarrel between two young lovers forced apart by a jury's mistake. It has also tested a law not built to answer the questions these odd circumstances posed.

The judge's decision will pivot on what to consider the $360,000 the state owes Dail -- $20,000 for each year mistakenly spent in prison. The state calls the money "compensation." Heekin argued last month that it should be considered salary; the courts could order payment of salary to a separated parent.

Dail's attorney argued that the money is akin to a civil payment for pain and suffering, not salary. Brantley must determine at a hearing likely set in the spring how to classify the money, Benton said.

Dail and Chris are visiting family in New Jersey this week. They have been sightseeing in Philadelphia and will travel to North Carolina next week.

Chris is spending Christmas with his mother.

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