Dane County will pay Ralph Armstrong, whose 1981 murder conviction was overturned in 2005, $1 million to settle his claim that a prosecutor acted improperly during events leading to his conviction.
In the settlement agreement, released to the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday morning, now-retired Assistant District Attorney John Norsetter does not admit wrongdoing, but Dane County offers the $1 million payment to end the portion of Armstrong’s civil rights lawsuit that pertains to Norsetter.
The $1 million payment is on top of $750,000 that Armstrong will receive from the city of Madison and the state of Wisconsin for a separate settlement, released on Monday.
Armstrong, now 64, filed the lawsuit in 2012, and about a year later recruited a Chicago civil rights law firm, Loevy & Loevy, to represent him in U.S. District Court.
Armstrong filed the lawsuit seven years after the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned his convictions on first-degree murder and rape charges for the June 1980 death of UW-Madison student Charise Kamps, who was 19 years old. The court found that DNA evidence did not support Armstrong’s conviction.
After the convictions were overturned in 2005, prosecutors sought to retry Armstrong on the murder and rape charges.
But in 2009, a judge threw out the case citing prosecutorial misconduct, after learning that DNA on a key piece of evidence, the belt to a bathrobe from Kamps’ apartment, had been used up on a test performed at the behest of the prosecution team, without the approval of Armstrong’s defense team.
The test found that it was possible that Armstrong’s DNA was in a DNA mix found on the belt, but because there was no DNA left, the judge ruled, Armstrong’s lawyers were unfairly denied a chance to order their own tests to confirm or refute the finding.
The parties in the civil rights lawsuit filed a stipulation to dismiss the case on Friday because settlements had been reached.
The city of Madison agreed to pay $600,000 to Armstrong on behalf of retired Madison police Detective Marion Morgan, who had taken the belt to the state Crime Lab for testing, while the state Department of Justice agreed to pay $150,000 on behalf of retired Crime Lab DNA analyst Karen Daily, who performed the DNA test.
The agreement pertaining to Morgan and Daily was released to the State Journal on Monday.
Norsetter’s conduct was not specified in the agreement released Tuesday, but it occurred while prosecutors were county employees, before they became state employees in 1990.
According to a July ruling, when U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb denied motions by Norsetter, Morgan and Daily to rule in the case in their favor, Crabb allowed a claim to proceed against Norsetter that he allowed evidence taken from Kamps’ apartment to be destroyed.
Armstrong’s lawyers claimed that that evidence could have been checked for the killer’s fingerprints.
The agreement pertaining to Norsetter does not allow any parties or lawyers to comment on the agreement, not only to the media but on social media as well.
Contacted on Friday, Armstrong attorney Mark Loevy-Reyes declined to comment, citing the confidentiality clause. David McFarlane, who represented Norsetter, also declined to comment.
Armstrong is currently in prison in New Mexico, according to the New Mexico Corrections Department’s website, serving a sentence related to sexual assault convictions that pre-date Kamps’ murder.
Corrections Department spokeswoman Ashley Espinoza said Armstrong violated a condition of his parole that he have absolutely no internet access except as required by employment. He also committed reporting and employment violations, she said.
He is currently awaiting a parole hearing.