JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Relatives and friends were overcome with emotion to learn an uncle and nephew who had been imprisoned for 42 years for a murder they did not commit were vindicated Thursday when prosecutors asked a judge to vacate their convictions, saying they no longer believed in the men's guilt
Clifford Williams Jr., 76, and Hubert "Nathan" Myers, 61, wiped away tears after the judge said she was vacating their convictions. They walked out of a Duval County courtroom's doors to freedom, ready to spend time with family members and start their lives again.
On Friday, News4Jax spoke with others who have a special bond with Williams. A man who said he is Williams' son and a woman who said she is a former girlfriend of Williams were among many moved by the turn of events at the courthouse.
Cheryl Burney was watching the coverage on News4Jax and could not believe what was happening. She said she was dating Williams, who everyone called Boonie, at the time of his arrest in 1976.
"I was shocked," Burney told News4Jax. "I called all of my girlfriends and had them look at the news. I called my girlfriend and I said, 'Kat, guess who’s out?' And she said, 'Who?' And I said, 'Boonie.' She said, 'You're ****** me.' And I said, 'No, he's out.'"
Williams and Myers were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 1976 fatal shooting of Jeanette Williams and the attempted murder of her roommate, Nina Marshall. Both were asleep in bed at the time of the shooting. Williams died instantly and Marshall was able to flag down a car that drove her to a hospital. She identified Williams and Myers as the shooters. The men claimed they had been at a birthday party a block from the shooting, and other party-goers backed up their alibis. Their first trial ended in mistrial. The men were convicted a second trial.
Burney said she had kept in contact with Williams by mail but had not heard anything for some time. She said, in 1976, they were living together. She was not in the neighborhood where the shooting happened, but said she knew one thing: "He didn't do it. He's not that kind of man."
"That was a different time back then. We were young and drugs were out and that was a drug area," Burney said. "It was just bad for blacks. Period."
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During that time, there were others in Williams' life, including his children. His son, Clifford Williams III, called News4Jax on Friday from Denver to talk about his father. He was 1 year old when his father went to prison.
"He missed all of us growing up his whole life in prison," Williams III said. "That is horrible. That is cruel."
He said he can't believe the mistakes that were made that kept his father, who he never really knew, behind bars for more than four decades.
"I thought that was the worst thing that could ever happen," Williams' son said. "How could someone be in prison that long of time. The case is sitting right there and nobody goes through it to try and see what is going on?"
He was 25 when he last visited his father in prison and now wants to make Williams an important part of his life. He hopes to meet up again soon with his father, saying he would like to help take care of him. Burney told News4Jax she wants to do the same.
"I just want to see him so bad. 'Oh my man is home,'" she said, laughing.
The release of Williams and Myers occurred after an investigation by the Innocence Project and the State Attorney's Office Conviction Integrity Unit, which State Attorney Melissa Nelson impaneled last year to review claims of wrongful conviction. Williams' and Myers' case marked the first time an investigation by the unit led to a prisoner's release.
The Innocence Project met with the two men again on Friday and News4Jax has asked whether a reunion can take place.