Clifford, 77, is shown above with lawmakers. He was 34 at the time of his arrest
A Jacksonville man who was wrongfully convicted of murder that he served a 43 year sentence for remains on another quest for justice.
It was less than a year ago that Clifford Williams and his nephew, Nathan Meyers, were cleared in the 1976 murder of a Jacksonville woman and the attempted murder of her roommate. The two men spent decades in prison before finally having their innocence confirmed by the state attorney’s office.
“It took 43 years to get out, but thank God we kept living because a lot of people have died who were innocent,” said Williams.
Williams’ nephew also got life in the case and refused to testify against his uncle in exchange for a lighter sentence.
Under Florida Law, those who’ve been wrongfully convicted and can prove it are eligible to receive up to $50,000 for every year they were imprisoned. There is one small caveat, it excludes people like Williams who have prior convictions.
The 77-year-old headed to Tallahassee this week to fight for compensation local lawmakers say is owed to him by the state — $2.5 million to be exact. According to First Coast News, House and Senate Democrats, along with William’s lawyers and The Innocence Project of Florida are now working to authorize a “claims” bill that would compensate the elderly man for his time served.
Williams was present at the House Civil Justice Subcommittee hearing last week where his bill received unanimous approval from the panel – and an apology from committee Chair Bob Rommel (R-Naples).
“I want to apologize on behalf of the state of Florida,” Rommel told him. “We can never give back your time.”
The chairman promised to “work hard” to get the measure passed and said he hoped the compensation would provide some comfort to the wrongfully imprisoned man.
A separate measure would also remove the so-called “clean hands” rule that restricts “automatic” compensation for wrongfully incarcerated people with prior felony convictions, Creative Loafing reported.
A review of Williams’ case revealed that “multiple credible alibi witnesses” were not called to testify during his 1976 trial, House Special Master Jordan Jones wrote in a report on the claim 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 in the eight-page report.
While Williams’ felony convictions for attempted arson in 1960 and robbery in 1966 make him ineligible for the compensation allowed in state law, “the Legislature is not bound by that process and may pass this claim bill regardless of whether claimant could otherwise obtain relief,” Jones noted.
The approval of the claim bill Wednesday was just the first step in what could be a lengthy process; claim bills can take years to pass.
The Senate version (SB 28), sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville, has been referred to a special master and three committees. But Williams remains hopeful that supporters’ efforts on his behalf will be fruitful.“I just trusted God for those 43 years,” he said. “We can’t rush him.”
“How many dollars can replace the pain, the grief, and the torment that he endured, being an innocent man behind bars?” said Jacksonville Rep. Kimberly Daniels, who sponsored Williams’ proposal. “How much can you give a man for taking away 43 years of his life?”
The unanimous approval of Williams’ bill at its first vetting “sends a message loud and clear that the Florida House of Representatives cares,” Daniels told reporters.
While many saw the bill’s approval as a huge step in the right direction, lawmakers said there’s still a long road ahead. Claim bills can take several years before they’re passed.
Still, Williams said he remains hopeful.
“I just trusted God for those 43 years,” he said. “We can’t rush him.”