After decades of legal motions challenging two murder convictions, it appears that Billy Frederick Allen will receive $2 million from the state of Texas for wrongfully imprisoning him for almost 26 years.The Texas Supreme Court on Friday issued a significant interpretation of the Tim Cole Act that allows compensation even in cases where DNA evidence is not available to nullify a conviction.In a unanimous opinion by Justice Dale Wainwright, the court said the definition of "actual innocence" in the law includes claims like Allen's in which the trial was constitutionally flawed enough to undermine confidence in the conviction.Allen was given concurrent 99-year prison sentences after a Dallas County jury convicted him of murdering James Perry Sewell and his girlfriend, Raven Dannelle Lashbrook, in University Park in 1983.Only after the trial did Allen's attorney find out that one of the paramedics who attended to Sewell said he repeatedly named a Billy Wayne Allen as his assailant. But the trial attorney didn't include that information in a motion for new trial, on the circular theory that it wouldn't do any good because the courts would say he should have found out that information earlier and used it in Allen's defense.Police had pursued Billy Frederick Allen on the basis of a palm print that wasn't in itself enough to convict him and for which he had a plausible explanation.Allen kept challenging his conviction, and a trial judge repeatedly ruled that he should receive a new trial. After the law changed for raising claims of new evidence, the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2009 threw out Allen's conviction based on the ineffective assistance of his trial lawyer in not presenting evidence pointing to someone else as the killer. Prosecutors later dropped the charges.When Allen filed a claim with the Texas comptroller's office for compensation that's available to exonerated inmates, he was denied.The comptroller argued that the Court of Criminal Appeals' ruling didn't amount to the declaration of "actual innocence" required by the law.But the Supreme Court said the Legislature had made clear its intent to cover cases like Allen's.In a detailed examination, the court said "actual innocence" encompasses both claims such as exonerations based on new evidence from DNA testing and those in which "the constitutional error at trial probably resulted in the conviction of one who was actually innocent.""The Legislature has drawn no distinctions between the two types of 'actual innocence' claims," Wainwright wrote.He said lawmakers amended the law in 2007, 2009 and 2011 and could have limited its scope but did not. "Where legislative enactments unambiguously direct our path, we must follow," he wrote.Despite efforts to restrict the scope of eligible claimants -- both in the Legislature and the courts -- the comptroller's office sounded magnanimous in a statement about the ruling: "Now that we have helpful guidance from the Supreme Court we have immediately started the process of paying Billy Allen approximately $2 million for wrongful imprisonment compensation. The Court's decision will also help us pay any other exonerees with similar circumstances to Mr. Allen."The law currently provides for payment of $80,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment plus an annuity. To date, Texas has paid 80 exonerees $49.5 million in wrongful imprisonment compensation, according to the comptroller's office.The state's continuing challenge is to get criminal convictions right at the outset -- to achieve justice, prevent needless disruption of lives and avoid waste of scarce public resources.