BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — The state of Michigan has paid more than $1 million to Jeff Titus as compensation for the 21 years he spent in prison for a wrongful conviction in a double murder.
Titus, now 71, told Target 8 he’s already cashed the check.
“It’s like I’m reborn, and I’m starting life all over again,” he said on Friday. “It ($1 million) helps, but it doesn’t pay me back for all that time I lost.”
Records show a state Court of Claims judge late last month ordered the state to pay Titus more than $1 million through the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act.
That’s $50,000 for every year in prison.
It’s tax-free, and attorneys don’t get any of it.
Separately, the state paid Titus’ attorney $5,100.
Attorney Wolfgang Mueller said he also plans to file a civil suit in U.S. District Court next week on Titus’ behalf against the police whose investigation led to his wrongful conviction.
Titus said he was shocked when his attorney gave him the $1 million check.
“Shocked that I am a new millionaire,” Titus said. “And it really shook me up to realize that now I can do this. I can buy my truck, buy a house to live in and have my own place again.”
The state Attorney General’s Office, which originally filed documents to block it, agreed to the payment.
“They said they were going to fight it, and it went on for a while,” Titus said. “I don’t know what all happened, but I did get my check.”
In 2002, a jury convicted Titus of the 1990 murders of hunters Doug Estes and Jim Bennett in Kalamazoo County without hearing anything about an alternate suspect: serial killer Thomas Dillon, who was identified by two witnesses. Dillon later died in prison.
That was the reason the AG’s office worked with the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic to set Titus free.
A Target 8 investigation in 2017 also revealed that cold case detectives who investigated the deaths ignored alibi witnesses who put Titus miles away at the time of the murders.
Target 8 was there when Titus was set free in February.
He had been serving two life sentences.
On Friday, while at Sweetwater’s Donut Mill in Battle Creek, Titus worked out details with a realtor to buy a house with 10 acres for hunting.
He says he’s invested most of the money.
“I’m being smart, and it even shocked a few people,” Titus said.
He plans to go hunting Saturday on the first day of early doe season.
“I can’t wait to get out there in the woods and just sit. I can’t,” Titus said. “It’s 22 years at least, maybe 23, that I haven’t hunted deer.”
He’s starting to master his cellphone.
“I know I’m going to be out there hunting a trophy buck, and all of a sudden, the phone’s going to go ding-aling-ding,” he said.
Then, there’s Titus’ new 2023 Toyota Tundra pickup, with all that digital stuff, a back-up camera, navigation, hands-free phone and even keyless locks.
His last pickup, he recalled, had a CD player.
“Come on, I locked it,” Titus said while trying to get into his locked truck.
“It’s all new to me, and it don’t have a key. I mean, it’s a little thing like that,” he said, showing the keyfob. “All it uses is this. I put my foot on the brake, hit the button.”
And the truck started.