TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Key House and Senate panels on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan that would provide $2.15 million to a man who spent nearly 43 years in prison before a second look at the case set him free last year.
House members apologized to former inmate Clifford Williams, who briefly spoke to the House panel.
“On behalf of the state of Florida, we apologize,” Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, said.
Later, Senate bill sponsor Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, told the Senate panel that the “bill is about innocence. It’s about a man who was not a saint but not a murderer either.”
Williams and his nephew, Nathan Myers, were convicted in the May 1976 death of Jeannette Williams and the shooting of her roommate, Nina Marshal, in Jacksonville’s New Town neighborhood. An investigation of the case by the Conviction Integrity Unit established by State Attorney Melissa Nelson in the 4th Judicial Circuit -- which is made up of Clay, Duval and Nassau counties -- found there was insufficient evidence to find them guilty. The review revealed that “multiple credible alibi witnesses” were not called to testify during the 1976 trial, House Special Master Jordan Jones wrote in a report on the bill.
“I find that claimant has successfully demonstrated, by clear and convincing evidence, that he is actually innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted in 1976,” Jones wrote of Williams in the eight-page report.
Following the investigation by the State Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit, a judge agreed there was insufficient evidence to find Williams and Myers guilty and overturned their convictions in March 2019.
A wrongfully convicted individual found innocent is entitled to compensation. Florida law requires them to receive $50,000 annually up to a maximum of $2 million, as long as they don’t have any prior felony convictions.
Williams has two prior felony convictions: one for attempted arson in 1960 and another for robbery in 1966, making him ineligible for the compensation. Despite that, House bill sponsor Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, and Gibson are pushing to make Williams an exception to the law.
Daniels said the compensation would not make up for the time Williams spent in prison or the experiences he missed over the years with his family. But Daniels said the bill “sends a message loud and clear that here at the House of Representatives, we care.”
Daniels’ bill, which would provide $50,000 for each year Williams spent in prison, must clear the House Judiciary Committee before it could go to the full House.
Gibson’s bill needs to clear the Senate Appropriations Committee before it could go to the full Senate.
The approval of the plan by the House and Senate panels comes after News4Jax on Friday obtained a letter from Attorney General Ashley Moody’s Office, saying that Myers’ petition for wrongful incarceration compensation did not meet the necessary requirements. But the next day, Richard H. Martin, General Counsel at the Florida Department of Legal Affairs, wrote in a letter that "the application meets the requirements of the statute and is complete.”