Compensating wrongly convicted Fla. man

James Richardson fighting to be compensated after nearly 40 years

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Imagine being sent to death row for poisoning your seven children while knowing you were innocent. That's what happened to James Richardson in the small town of Arcadia, 90 miles southwest of Tampa, in 1968.

After nearly 40 years, Richardson is fighting to be compensated for his wrongful conviction.

Fruit picker Richardson went to death row in 1968 for allegedly poisoning his seven children. In the late 1980s, high-profile attorney Ellis Rubin started questioning the conviction.

"This case will illustrate what racism was in Florida in 1967," Rubin said in 1998.

A thorough investigation by the governor and special prosecutor followed.

"Justice ought to prevail," said former Gov. Bob Martinez in 1989.

A neighbor confessed, and the lawyer got the state Supreme Court to hear an appeal.

"We have alleged 17 instances of perjury with the knowledge of the state," Rubin said in 1988.

Freed, pending a new trial, the state declined to retry Richardson.

"It's marvelous, I can be able to go wherever I want to go," Richardson said in 1989.

Richardson now faces another obstacle: Current law won't allow him to be compensated for his lost years because there's no DNA and for that matter, even a case file.

"Because our wrongful-incarceration statute requires DNA," said Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando.

Thompson has legislation that threads a tricky legal needle. The bill would allow Richardson to apply for compensation.

"The special prosecutor issues a no-cross memorandum, which she did," said Thompson. "If the conviction was prior to 1980, then he should qualify to apply to be compensated."

If approved, Richardson could apply for a payment of $50,000 for each of the 21 years he spent as an innocent man behind bars.

Richardson, now 79, is living in Wichita, Kan.

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