Compensation for Clifford Williams, who spent 43 wasted years in prison, is now in the hands of Gov. DeSantis

Clifford Williams, at the podium, and his wife, Leatrice, stand with supportive relatives, lawmakers and attorneys. He was released from prison with the help of Florida's first conviction integrity review unit, established by 4th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson. Photo: Laura Cassels

Clifford Williams, wrongfully imprisoned for 43 years, including five years on Death Row, is one step away from being compensated by the state of Florida – if Gov. Ron DeSantis approves the legislation.

The move would pay Williams $2.15 million – roughly $50,000 for each year he spent in prison for a 1976 murder he did not commit.

The legislation is now on DeSantis’ desk. The governor has until June 10 to make the decision.

The claims bill was filed by Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville, where Williams, then 34, was convicted of murdering a Jacksonville woman. His nephew, Nathan Myers, then 18, was convicted in the same killing.

Williams was sentenced to death; Myers to life in prison. They insisted for 43 years that they were innocent.

Florida’s first conviction integrity unit, created in January 2018 by 4th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson reopened the case and found grievous flaws in the convictions. Based on the unit’s findings, a judge overturned the convictions and set the men free in late 2019.

The Innocence Project of Florida and attorney George E. Schulz, Jr. of Holland & Knight, helped Williams regain his liberty. They charged no fees.

Other judicial circuits have since created special units to review convictions involving credible claims of innocence.

Williams was initially barred from receiving compensation due to Florida’s “clean hands” provision, which disqualifies a wrongfully incarcerated person if he or she had more than one previous felony. Williams had two.

Sen. Gibson, with strong support from Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a north Florida Republican, succeeded in passing a special claim for Williams regardless of the clean-hands provision.

“This claims bill is about innocence,” Gibson told senators in March, near the end of the 2020 legislative session. “It’s about a man who was not a saint but was not a murderer, either. Yet for 43 years, Mr. Clifford Williams languished in prison for a crime he did not commit.”

Meanwhile, Myers is ostensibly eligible for compensation for the 43 years he was wrongfully incarcerated but he has not received any.

The bill to compensate Williams was sponsored in the House by Jacksonville Reps. Kimberly Daniels, a Democrat, and Jason Fischer, a Republican.