On July 19, 1990, 31-year-old Rommain Isham was convicted by a jury of sexually assaulting the eight-year-old son of his live-in girlfriend.
At the trial in Douglas County, Wisconsin, the boy testified that he had been repeatedly assaulted by Isham.
Isham was sentenced to 10 years in prison. While in prison, he was sexually assaulted by other inmates and physically attacked because he was labeled a child molester. Isham continued to deny ever assaulting the boy, and served the entire sentence because he refused to attend sex offender treatment, which would have made him eligible for early release.
After serving his sentence, he was released in 2000.
In 2009, nine years after Isham was released from prison, James Ohm, a Wisconsin Department of Justice criminal investigator, was investigating an unrelated case and happened to speak to the boy’s mother. The woman told Ohm that the boy had recanted his testimony in 1995, when he was 13 years old.
Isham’s accuser confirmed to Ohm that in 1995—while Isham was still in prison—he had admitted to his mother that his allegations were false. He also said he had recanted to others as early as 1993, when he was 11 years old.
Ohm discovered that several years after the 1995 recantation, the boy had given a formal statement to the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department—located more than 500 miles southwest of Douglas County, where the boy was living at the time. In the statement, he recanted his testimony against Isham. But nothing was done.
Ohm located the accuser’s brother and ex-girlfriend. Both told Ohm that the accuser had told them the allegations were false.
Based on Ohm’s investigation, the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office filed a motion to vacate Isham’s conviction. At a hearing in May 2010, the accuser—by then 28 years old—testified that his life was in turmoil at the time he concocted the allegations – he had been in foster care and was struggling to cope with the death of his grandfather, whom he lived with prior to living with his mother and Isham.
The accuser also testified that he felt pressured by his abusive father to maintain the lie. On May 11, 2010, the conviction was vacated and the charges were dismissed.
Isham sought $3,650,000 in compensation from the state of Wisconsin—$1,000 for every day he was incarcerated—for the pain and suffering inflicted while in prison and because he was virtually unemployable after his release, since he was a registered sex offender.
Compensation in Wisconsin is capped at $5,000 per year of incarceration for up to five years—a maximum of $25,000. On October 11, 2011, the State of Wisconsin Claims Board awarded Isham $25,000—the equivalent of $6.85 per day.
– Maurice Possley