The Florida state Senate’s Democratic leader has filed legislation to provide compensation for a 76-year-old man who was released from prison earlier this year after serving 43 years for a murder he did not commit.
Jacksonville Democrat Audrey Gibson is seeking to compensate Clifford Williams with a $2.15 million payment. The money would go to the state’s Department of Financial Services and then be distributed to an insurance company of Williams’ choosing. The legislation would also provide him free tuition and fees at any career center or state university.
Williams was released from prison along with his nephew Nathan Myers, 61, this spring after a State Attorney’s Office investigation in Jacksonville determined the office “no longer has confidence in the integrity of the convictions or guilt of the accused.”
The men were sentenced to life in prison for the 1976 fatal shooting of Jeanette Williams and the attempted murder of her girlfriend, Nina Marshall. The women were asleep in bed at the time of the shooting. Williams died instantly, but Marshall survived and identified Williams and Myers as the shooters.
The Conviction Integrity Review report said that Marshall’s trial testimony was inconsistent with the physical evidence, but attorneys for the men never questioned her at trial. There was no independent verification or corroboration of her account. She died in 2001.
Both Williams and Myers were originally sentenced to the death penalty by a jury, but the judge overrode that recommendation and sentenced Williams to death and Myers to life in prison. Williams appealed his sentence, and the Florida Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in 1980 to reverse his death sentence to life in prison.
Florida law already provides compensation to the 61-year-old Myers. But Williams isn’t eligible for that program because he had prior felony convictions. That’s why Gibson is stepping in to get Williams compensation for the decades he spent wrongfully convicted in prison.
Gibson’s legislation also says that if any “factual finding” from DNA or other evidence later determines that Williams did participate in Jeanette Williams’ murder or the attempted murder of her partner “the unused benefits to which Clifford Williams is entitled under this act are vacated.”