DALLAS -- When Michael Blair was sent to death row for the infamous murder of a 7-year-old Texas girl, he insisted he never killed anyone. More than a decade later, genetic testing showed he was telling the truth.
But during those long years behind bars, Blair did something else that ensured he would never leave prison: He confessed to raping two other children -- a crime for which he's serving multiple life sentences.
Blair hasn't forgotten the murder case, and now he's made an unlikely demand, asking the state for nearly $1 million as compensation for being wrongfully convicted. His request has gone all the way to the Texas Supreme Court and is forcing a re-examination of laws designed to offer exonerated inmates a new start.
"He doesn't deserve a nickel of it," said Cory Session, whose brother, Tim Cole, was wrongfully imprisoned and had his name attached to the Texas law.
Blair "didn't deserve to be on death row for that crime, and we've proven that," Session said. "But he also doesn't deserve to receive compensation under the Tim Cole Act. He will soil my brother's name and memory."
The state comptroller has repeatedly denied Blair's claim, which a state attorney recently called "absurd." But if the court rules in his favor, the comptroller could be required to pay him $80,000 for each year he was locked up for the murder.
Blair's story began with the death of Ashley Estell, who disappeared from a soccer game in 1993 in suburban Dallas. A day later, she was found strangled by a roadside, and Blair was lurking around the scene.
He had been previously convicted of indecency with a child. Detectives found a stuffed rabbit toy, a knife and several samples of hair in Blair's car. A forensic expert testified that hair from the car had a "strong association" with the young girl, according to the national Innocence Project.
A jury took just 27 minutes to convict Blair. Lawmakers then passed "Ashley's Laws," which toughened restrictions on sex offenders.
While Blair was on death row, his attorneys pressed for new DNA testing. Blair asserted in media interviews and letters that he didn't kill Ashley. He said he was a rapist but not a murderer. And he said he had committed several sexual assaults that never resulted in charges.
After almost a decade, Blair made the same confession in a letter to the Collin County district attorney, admitting he had raped children in neighboring Dallas before the murder occurred, according to attorneys who reviewed the letter. It was not available in Dallas County court files.
In 2003, the Dallas County district attorney used the letter to charge Blair with four counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child. Blair pleaded guilty the following year and received three consecutive life sentences without any promise that his death sentence would be overturned.
Four years later, new DNA testing had excluded Blair in Ashley's slaying, and he was removed from death row. Instead of walking free as more than 100 exonerated people in Texas have done, Blair was moved to another prison unit to serve his life sentences.