As its last act of the legislative session, the Florida Senate approved a bill allowing compensation for James Richardson, who had been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death.  He spent 21 years in prison (5 on death row) for a crime he did not commit.  He was convicted of murdering his 7 children by poison in 1967.  His trial was later found to include perjury and prosecutorial misconduct.

Many decades later, a former babysitter confessed to the murders.  By the time she confessed, she was in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  The governor decided to reopen the case and a special prosecutor found that Richardson’s case was largely built upon coerced jailhouse snitch witnesses, who were beaten into falsely testifying against Richardson.

In 1989, Richardson’s conviction was overturned and he was released.  But he did not receive any compensation.  Now an old man, he will finally be compensated by the state for his injustice.

Sen. Geraldine Thompson, a sponsor of the bill, said “This will allow him to have an opportunity to revisit some dreams that were deferred early in his very young life.”

Robert Barrar, an attorney who has represented Richardson, said, “The Legislature did the right thing. To right an injustice for all those years that were taken away from him.”

After years of failed attempts, Richardson’s supporters persuaded the Florida Legislature to change the law that left the wrongfully convicted man in legal limbo for 25 years.  They convinced lawmakers to modify the 2008 Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act to include Richardson.  The law allows the wrongly convicted to receive $50,000 for each year of their imprisonment up to $2 million, plus a tuition waiver. But they must prove their innocence.  In Richardson’s case that was impossible.  Not only was there no DNA evidence, his evidence was gone.  Under the new bill, Richardson could apply for compensation based just upon the strength of the special prosecutor’s investigation and order to release him from prison.

Richardson wasn’t there to see.  He had left the day before, returning to his home with his wife in Wichita, Kansas.  He flew back home because a political meltdown threatened to prevent his bill from reaching the floor.  The bill was widely popular in the preceding weeks, sailing through all the committees and clearing the Florida House unanimously.  But, as with all political actions, nothing is a sure thing.  The bill suddenly got caught in an unrelated political fight sparked by a Tampa delegation.  The group angered Senator Arthenia Joyner by overruling her objections on a civil service bill.  When other democrats lined up behind her, all bipartisan agreements were suspended.

Democrats said that they were clashing with Republicans over an education bill.  In a meeting, Thompson promised Richardson that she would do her best to overcome the hurdle within her own party.  The other bill’s sponsor Rep. Dave Kerner hustled between the House and Senate attempting to repair the roadblock.  Kerner said it looked like the issue would take some “diplomacy.”  When the bill finally passed, Joyner told the media, “This is our way of saying we take responsibility for the wrong actions of…others in convicting you.”

Richardson said he was grateful that the state formally acknowledged his innocence, “It’s not ever going to be over.  [The money] can’t pay back what I lost.”

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Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Wobbly Warrior's Blog and commented:
    Shame on Florida for not making exoneration compensation automatic, sans the current “clean hands” provision. The state has likely spent more on fighting compensation for Juan Ramos’ wrongful five years on death row than he is due in compensation – $250,000. Juan was acquitted at retrial in 1987. The biggest reason to deny him compensation is so that Floridians aren’t reminded that there are many frame-ups achieved using charlatan dog handler John Preston yet to be addressed, including Gary Bennett’s 30-year-old frame-up.

    Like

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