By the time state Rep. Ernest Hewett met him, "the kid" was in his 30s.
But to Hewett, the six-term Democrat from New London, Clarence Jackson's still the kid. And Hewett says he'll keep fighting for him until Jackson gets the $5.8 million Connecticut lottery jackpot that's eluded him for more than 18 years.
"'Give the kid the money' — that's what they used to say around the Capitol," Hewett recalled last week. "That's what we ought to do."
Jackson's oft-told story, revived again this month during a public hearing conducted by the Public Safety and Security Committee, begins around 11:15 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13, 1996, the date on which Jackson's sister discovered he possessed a winning lottery ticket purchased Friday, Oct. 13, 1995. Media reports about an unclaimed jackpot had prompted her search.
At that point, Jackson had 45 minutes to validate the ticket before it expired. Lottery headquarters were closed that Sunday and they were closed the next day, too, which happened to be Columbus Day.
That Tuesday, depressed amid media reports of the missed deadline, Jackson, a Hamden resident, again failed to make it to the Newington headquarters. When he finally presented the ticket there that Wednesday, he was told he was too late. Seventy-two hours too late.
Since then, legislators have proposed more than a dozen bills and amendments aimed at extending the deadline for claiming lottery prizes. In 1997, 2004 and 2006, the House adopted such an amendment, only to have it die on the vine or in the Senate.
In 1998, a state Superior Court judge sided with the lottery in a lawsuit lodged by Jackson.
Now Hewett has revived Jackson's cause, teaming with Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, to sponsor a bill that addresses what Hewett sees as the injustice of it all.
House Bill No. 5924 specifies that a person who presents a winning lottery ticket within 72 hours of the deadline for a lottery game expiring on or after July 1, 1996, can claim a prize until Aug. 1, 2015.
"Upon such filing, the Connecticut Lottery Corp. shall award such a prize," the bill says.
Why has Hewett taken up the gauntlet?
"I've just found Clarence Jackson's story so compelling," Hewett said. "He was a young man when I first met him. His mother was living then and she's now passed away. Since then, he's gone on to college and got married."
Hewett and others have cited the "extenuating circumstances" surrounding Jackson's case, including distractions that caused him to forget about the winning lottery ticket his sister found in a drawer. Jackson's ailing father was bedridden at the time, and Jackson worked to support an extended family, cleaning supermarkets at night.
Jackson mistakenly believed his winning ticket had to be presented at lottery headquarters. In fact, he could have had it validated at any lottery agent, including the Hamden convenience store where he bought it, which was open that Sunday night in October 1996.
"Clarence didn't know he could do that," Hewett said. "And I'll bet 80 percent of the people who play the lottery don't know that, either. Back then, there was some confusion about the rules. ... It's like the surgeon general's warning on a pack of cigarettes. That wasn't always there."
In testimony before the public safety committee, Anne Noble, head of the Connecticut Lottery Corp., urged defeat of the bill Hewett co-sponsored. She warned that its passage could cost the state millions of dollars and "open the floodgates to claims that the lottery must pay a prize, even when the rules plainly prohibit such payment ... a Pandora's box."
The lottery, she said, has no way of determining whether tickets purchased before 2008 were ever validated within 72 hours of their expiration or even if they're authentic.
Since 1996, Noble said, more than $255.4 million in lottery prizes have gone unclaimed, "the maximum prize liability to date for this bill."
"That is the biggest crock," Hewett said of Noble's concerns about the lottery's potential liability. "I don't doubt that those prizes are unclaimed, but it's because people lost those tickets or don't even know they hit the lottery. If they knew, they'd be doing the same thing Clarence is doing."
One of the enduring arguments against a law to accommodate Jackson is the precedent-setting nature of it. Rules are rules, after all.
Proponents of a remedy note that legislatures in other states, including Kansas, Maryland, New York and Ohio, have bent their rules to accommodate specific situations involving lost or expired lottery tickets. In the 1970s, the Connecticut legislature passed a bill ordering payment of a $10,000 prize to a 17-year-old who had purchased a winning lottery ticket in violation of state law.
"How will you say no to other similar claims?" Noble asked.
How, Hewett wants to know, can the legislature keep saying no to the kid?