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State Pays Wrongfully-Convicted Seattle Man $500,000 After He Spends 10 Years In Prison

Paula Wissel
Brandon Redtailhawk Olebar in King County Court for the signing of his compensation award from the state.

Imagine spending ten years of your life behind bars for a crime you didn’t commit. 

That's what happened to Brandon Redtailhawk Olebar. Now, Washington state is paying him more than half a million dollars.

Olebar is one of the first exonerees to receive a monetary award under a Washington law passed in 2013. The law makes it possible for people wrongfully incarcerated in the state to receive up to $50,000 for each year in prison as well as tuition waivers for themselves and their families to state universities and colleges.Olebar was able to prove his innocence with the help of the Innocence Project Northwest.

He was convicted in 2003 of robbery and burglary and sentenced to 16 1/2 years.

He was  released from prison nearly a year ago, after the Innocence Project proved other men committed the crime and the eyewitness testimony used to convict Olebar was faulty.

Olebar, in court with his wife and one month old baby named Creation, told reporters the $546,690 he was awarded will help him move forward, but can't fix what's been done.

"All the money in the world can’t give me back what I’ve learned and went through," he said.

Everyone in court, from Olebar’s attorneys to the representatives of the state say one thing that’s so amazing about Olebar is that he was never bitter.

I asked him why that was.

"For me, it was not letting the system or anybody control my emotions," he said.

It has been difficult, he says, adjusting to the world outside prison. Being in crowds makes him feel anxious and he has a hard time working in small spaces.

Still, as he and his wife look lovingly at their little girl, who is snoozing in a stroller, they say she's a sign that the future is bright.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.