JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After an uncle and nephew who had been imprisoned for 42 years for a murder had their convictions vacated, the prosecutor during the two trials four decades ago opened up about the case.
Hank Coxe told News4Jax on Friday that he would not have prosecuted Clifford Williams Jr. and Hubert "Nathan" Myers years ago if he had not thought they were guilty. He said he can't say now whether he believes they are innocent, but said he understands why Williams, 76, and Myers, 61, had their convictions overturned Thursday.
Williams and Myers were freed 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 re-examine questionable cases, found there was insufficient evidence to find them guilty and a judge agreed. Williams' and Myers' case marked the first time an investigation by the unit led to a prisoner's release.
Coxe said he knew this was coming, as he helped create that unit with Nelson and, a few months ago, she informed him that the unit was looking at Williams' and Myers' case.
The men 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. Their first trial ended in mistrial. The men were convicted at a second trial. Coxe was the prosecutor during the two trials and said he has vivid memories of the case.
"I'm a big believer, if you prosecute someone for first-degree murder and if you ask for the death penalty on anybody, you ought to be able to remember almost every bit of it," Coxe said.
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News4Jax asked Coxe whether he felt there was ever a possibility that the two men were innocent.
“I would say, sure, they’re possibly innocent," he said. "Do I think what the State Attorney’s Office has put together is a product that points to innocence? I’m not that comfortable it does. I think it does point to the lack of integrity of how the conviction resulted.”
During the trials, Coxe said they relied on Marshall’s eyewitness testimony. She identified Williams and Myers as the shooters. The men claimed they had been at a birthday party a block from the shooting.
Coxe said, at the time, witness accounts were stronger than the forensics technology that was available.
"To say, 'Would you revisit or relook at it now?' Of course, I would," Coxe said.
He also said both Williams and Myers were eligible for patrol 18 years ago, and it’s unclear why they didn’t receive that.