After $1 mil payout for wrongful conviction, Fred Clay back at work

As Fred Clay works on building a future, the past still grabs at him: memories of prison, a nagging fear of being sent back and the realization of what he lost to 38 years in prison. Photo: Meredith Nierman / WGBH.

A day after learning that he’ll receive a $1 million settlement from the state, Fred Clay treated it like just another work day — punching the clock at a metal shop in Lowell where he grinds aviation parts.

The settlement with Clay is the highest amount allowed under a new state law, and it is meant to compensate him for the almost 38 years he was wrongfully locked up in Massachusetts’ prisons.

“I’m happy about it, but at the same time it doesn’t replace 38 years out of my life,” Clay said. “I’m not relying on the money. I’m still trying to take care of myself the way I know how — which is to work.”

He plans to keep the $14-an-hour job that he landed a year ago. By the time Clay pays his lawyers, he will see about $750,000 of the settlement.

Clay, who has always said he didn’t kill a Boston cab driver back in 1979, embraced the attorney general’s statement that he is “clearly innocent.”

“To hear the attorney general put that into writing, it makes a big difference to me,” he said.

Clay was arrested in 1979, just weeks after turning 16, and charged with the first-degree murder of Jeffrey Boyajian. His conviction was based partly on testimony from a witness named Richard Dwyer, who identified Clay only after he had been put under hypnosis by a police detective.

Clay won his freedom in August 2017 after lawyers at the state’s Innocence Program convinced the Suffolk district attorney’s “conviction integrity program” and a superior court judge that the murder conviction was deeply flawed.

The attorney general’s settlement with Clay will expunge his criminal record and grant him free tuition at any state university or community college.

Clay said he’s considering more education, but his first goals will be looking for new housing in a few months and hiring a financial planner.

“I’m not like a big ball player (who) can get $28 million and then go broke. If people get that type of money and go broke, then $750,000, it’s like a penny,” said Clay. “I’m trying to keep that all that in mind.”

The settlement negotiated with the state attorney general’s office will mark the first time in Clay’s 17 months outside prison that he will receive any money from the state.

Clay’s case and the story of his struggle to find a good-paying job and decent housing over the last year prompted State Sen. Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville) to press for new legislation that would provide immediate assistance to wrongfully convicted people released from prison.