By Mike Gangloff – David Wayne Kingrea’s long search for justice took another step this month as Gov. Glenn Youngkin approved more than $50,000 in compensation for Kingrea’s wrongful conviction and the year he spent in jail.
Kingrea, 49, of the Pilot community in Montgomery County, said Thursday that the money will help him and his wife care for their special-needs son Dylan. What is planned to be a series of payments and community college tuition waivers is to begin in July.
“It’s a new beginning once this comes,” Kingrea said.
Kingrea traced his legal ordeal back almost 12 years, when detectives began questioning him in a child abuse case.
The son of a former girlfriend accused Kingrea of molesting him, launching a process that saw Kingrea arrested on six charges, five of which were dropped or thrown out, then convicted by a jury in 2014 of taking indecent liberties with a minor. Kingrea was jailed for 12 months and had his name put on the Virginia Sex Offender Registry.
Then in 2020, his accuser, now grown, came forward and said that he had lied about Kingrea sexually abusing him. Last year, the Virginia Court of Appeals issued a writ of actual innocence and threw out Kingrea’s conviction.
Such cases are rare — Kingrea’s attorney, Fred Kellerman of Christiansburg, said that in 30 years of practice, he could not recall another case similar to Kingrea’s.
The National Registry of Exonerations project at the Michigan State University School of Law logged six exonerations in Virginia in 2021, one in 2020, and one in 2019.
Virginia has a process, and a formula, for compensating people who are locked up after a wrongful conviction. It requires approval by the General Assembly.
The delegate in whose district Kingrea lives, Del. Marie March, R-Floyd, did not respond to requests to assist with the compensation, Kingrea and Kellerman said.
Instead, Kingrea’s compensation was steered through the legislature by Del. Richard “Rip” Sullivan, D-Arlington. Sullivan said last week that he took up the effort at the request of Del. Jason Ballard, R-Pearisburg, whose district is near Kingrea’s home but who was already at the cap for the number of bills he could propose in this year’s session.
“I was happy to help … I did what I was able to do,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan noted that during years in office, he had sponsored compensation bills for several people who had been incarcerated, then had their convictions overturned. But the compensation is for incarceration only, not for the disadvantages of being wrongly listed on what Sullivan called “the purgatory of the Sex Offender Registry.”
“When you are on the Sex Offender Registry, it affects everything, from your ability to get a job to people’s willingness to speak to you at the Safeway,” Sullivan said.
Besides carrying the bill to compensate Kingrea for his year behind bars, Sullivan introduced separate legislation that would also compensate anyone who is incorrectly placed on the Sex Offender Registry. The proposed rate was about $25,000 per year on the registry, or somewhat less than half the amount paid for a year of being wrongfully jailed.
Sullivan’s bill stalled in committee and was not brought forward for a vote. He said that he plans to keep working on it next year.
From the time he was accused, Kingrea had insisted that he was innocent. At his trial, after jurors found him guilty and were pondering his sentence, Kingrea told them, “It’s a hard pill to swallow that I’ve been convicted of something I did not do.”
Kingrea, who had married in 2012, returned from jail adamant that the real price exacted for his conviction was being paid by his son, who was born in 2015 with a long list of health problems.
Dylan was diagnosed with X-linked creatine transporter deficiency, which affects his brain and muscles; Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, which is a rare form of epilepsy; cerebral palsy; autism spectrum disorder; and more. He takes many medications, is prone to seizures, and sometimes must be restrained. He wears a helmet and uses a wheelchair at Montgomery County Public Schools.
Kingrea’s wife, Michelle, works in the schools as a custodian. But David Kingrea, until his exoneration last summer, was barred from approaching school property as a convicted sex offender.
If his son had a problem, David Kingrea could not pick him up. If there was a meeting to plan Dylan’s school experience, Kingrea could not attend if it was held at a school.
“Every issue that involved his special needs child that needed David’s attention, there had to be a workaround because he couldn’t be at the school,” Kellerman said.
As for the money now being paid to his client, Kellerman called it “hopefully life-changing money” for the Kingreas.
“It is a significant amount and they need it for” Dylan, Kellerman said. But, he added, “it will never, ever be enough to pay David for the time he was locked up.”
Kingrea was unable to find a lasting job after being placed on the Sex Offender Registry. He recounted being hired at a restaurant, then being let go as soon as the manager found out about his conviction. “We get kids here,” he recalled the manager saying.
Much of Kingrea’s time is spent caring for his son, he said last year.
For the last few years, the Kingreas gave had a GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/Please-help-sweet-little-Dylan-get-a-sensory-room, trying to raise money for a “sensory room” that would basically be a padded addition to their mobile home where Dylan would have more space to play and watch videos.
Some money has been raised, but much of it went to needed repairs to the aging mobile home, just to keep it livable, Kingrea said last year.
Last week, Kingrea said that when the state compensation arrives, the plan is to finally build the sensory room.
“Our home is old but it’s full of love,” he said.
Kingrea said that Dylan has good times and worse times, and can go “from loving you to being very aggressive,” but that he and Michelle carry on.
“He was laughing and having a good time yesterday, so we’re happy,” Kingrea said. “We just take each day as it comes.”
According to the bill signed by the governor, Kingrea is to receive $58,942, with $30,353 to be paid, possibly in multiple installments on a schedule starting in July. The remaining $28,589 is to be used to buy an annuity sometime in the year following July, with details to be worked out between Kingrea and state officials.
The bill also conveys $10,000 in community college tuition waivers that can be used for “career and vocational training” during the next 2½ years. Kingrea said he hoped to start with a computer class.
“Maybe I’ll finally be able to work one,” he said, laughing.
Kingrea said that his first reaction to news that the compensation was approved was gratitude.
“First and foremost, I’d like to thank everybody who’s worked so hard on this. … I’m eternally grateful,” he said.
And to see at the top of the approved legislation a description of the accusation against him, followed by the words “a crime that he did not commit,” brought a sense of vindication that Kingrea said was overwhelming.
“I’m overjoyed,” Kingrea said. “I can’t even put it into words really. It’s a sense of peace.”
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