By PHILLIP RAWLS
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Alabama took the first step Tuesday toward paying nearly $119,000 to a church pianist and mother of two who was wrongfully jailed for nine months on a capital murder charge because of a botched autopsy on her newborn son.
The Senate's General Fund committee unanimously approved the payment Tuesday for Bridget Lee, a 37-year-old from Carrollton in west Alabama.
"I feel blessed they are considering that, but there is no amount of money that will get my life back," she said in a phone interview.
Alabama law allows the state Legislature to compensate people who are wrongfully incarcerated. The district attorney who initially prosecuted Lee, Chris McCool, said he never would have brought the case against her if he had been provided the correct facts from the beginning. He supports her getting compensated.
"Our job is not just to prosecute and win cases. Our job is to do justice," he said in an interview.
Lee acknowledges the facts looked bad when she was arrested in November 2006.
The bank bookkeeper and Baptist church pianist had an affair in her small west Alabama town of 1,000, got pregnant and tried to keep it secret. She felt sick on Nov. 6, 2006, went home from work and delivered a premature baby in her bathroom. She panicked, placed the newborn in a plastic container and hid it in her vehicle for several days before a co-worker's husband notified authorities.
Lee told investigators the baby was born dead, but a state forensic pathologist ruled the child was suffocated.
"I knew something was wrong because I knew I did not suffocate the baby, but I had no way to prove it," Lee said.
She was indicted for capital murder, which carries the death penalty. She spent nine months in jail and 20 months on home confinement at her parents' home.
During the ordeal, her husband divorced her and got custody of the children and their possessions.
Then her attorney got an independent expert to review the autopsy. His findings led the Alabama Department of Forensic Science to reopen the case and rule the child was stillborn. The department also reviewed dozens of other autopsies that the forensic pathologist performed during a brief stint with the department, but did not alter any of those.
Lee's life is partially back in order. She has a full-time data entry job. She's playing piano again at Aliceville First Baptist Church. And she's engaged.
But she said she only has visitation with her children, ages 8 and 10, every other weekend. And her life will never be normal again because some people will always question what happened.
"I live in a small town, and it will always be there," she said.
The payment to Lee is included in an appropriations measure that must be approved by the full Senate and House, and that must be signed by Gov. Robert Bentley.
The committee's chairman, Republican Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur, said he expects that to happen because the payment has the backing of House and Senate leaders.
The $118,767 payment would amount to about $50,000 annually for the time she faced the capital murder charge.
"I pray and hope it passes because I lost everything. I lost my children and I lost my reputation," Lee said.