THERE are a lot of numbers rolling around in Larry Peterson's head right now, and they just don't add up.

It's been four years since DNA evidence exonerated him for the 1987 rape and murder of a Burlington County woman, but the nearly 18 years he spent in jail for the crime still eat away at him every day.

Even though New Jersey law grants wrongfully convicted prisoners the right to sue the state for up to $20,000 for each year they spent behind bars, he can't believe that the state has spent $214,672 fighting his lawsuits.

"I am mad," Peterson, 58, said recently, smoking a small cigar outside his attorney's office in Moorestown. "I am angry as hell."

Peterson, bedecked in a suit made of a "mixture of reptiles," said he might as well still be wearing his old prison jumpsuit.

"I just went from one prison to another," he said.

William Buckman, Peterson's attorney, said that the state initially agreed to pay Peterson under the 1997 law but that Peterson hasn't received a dime since he filed his compensation lawsuit against the Treasury Department in Superior Court in 2006.

"They had actually agreed to pay him $460,000, but they just never came through with it," Buckman said.

Peterson also filed a federal lawsuit that seeks damages from the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office for violating his civil rights during his arrest, trial and conviction. In court filings, the prosecutor's office has denied those allegations.

Lee Moore, a spokesman for the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, said both lawsuits are being handled by the Teaneck firm of DeCotiis, FitzPatrick, Cole & Wisler.

Moore declined to comment on the cases, but as of last week, he said the state has paid the Teaneck firm $214,672 to represent them in the lawsuits.

As both lawsuits continue to wind their way through the legal system, Buckman claims the state has also put a freeze on expunging Peterson's criminal record.

"It's really Kafka-esque," Buckman said. "There seems to be no sense behind it, other than sheer vindictiveness."

He said it appears that the compensation law was enacted merely for New Jersey to pride itself as a "progressive" state.

"It's got enough loopholes in it to swallow the whole concept," he said.

The statute requires that "innocent persons" must "demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence" that they were mistakenly convicted and imprisoned.

Moore said about 10 individuals have been paid under the wrongful-conviction law since it was enacted.

During Peterson's trial, four witnesses testified that he had confessed to raping and murdering Jacqueline Harrison, whose body was found in a soybean field in Pemberton Township.

Peterson was convicted in 1989 and sentenced to life in prison. In 2003, with the help of the New York-based Innocence Project, Peterson won the right to test the state's biological evidence: hair, skin, blood and semen.

None of them matched Peterson's. Hairs that were reported to be a match with Peterson's belonged to the victim.

Rebecca Brown, a policy advocate with the Innocence Project, said there is legislation in the works in New Jersey that would allow wrongfully convicted prisoners to receive immediate compensation, as well as social services such as job training and housing.

"The goal with any sort of re-entry plan is to do everything possible for people to re-enter society and thrive," she said.

Peterson said he would have received more help from the state if he had been paroled from prison. Instead, he was released into the modern world with few job and life skills.

"I didn't know how to use a cell phone. I didn't know how to use a computer. Everything to me was a challenge. Everything was new to me," he said.

Buckman said he advises Peterson to write "No" when asked on job applications if he's ever been convicted of a crime, but the question always makes Peterson cringe.

In the Internet age, anyone can look him up, make their own judgments and close the door on him, said Brown, of the Innocence Project.

"People feel like they're in this no-man's land. They're not a probationer. They're not a parolee, and yet they're not really free," she said.

"We've heard about exonorees walking around with newspaper articles mentioning that they're exonorees."

Since he's been out, Peterson has worked as a newspaper hawker in Trenton and occasionally as a carpenter. He went to school to get his commercial driver's license, but couldn't find a driving job.

"I've probably applied to over 150 jobs and got a lot of 'Thanks, we'll call you back,' " Peterson said.

Recently, he started a landscaping business, and said he enjoys the sun on his face and cash in his pocket for a hard day's work.

The ever-present threat of prison violence has been replaced by the constant love of a new wife back in his hometown of Pemberton.

"She's the greatest thing that ever happened to me," Peterson said.

Still, Peterson says he can't subtract those 18 years from his mind, no matter when, or if, the state gets around to paying him.