by Reggie Fullwood
It’s hard to imagine sitting in a prison cell a day for a crime that you didn’t commit. Imagine sitting in prison for a year or 10, 20 or even 40 years for a crime that you had nothing to do it with.
Imagine that your only crime on the day that you were arrested was that you were a black man that just so happened to be walking down the street minding your own business.
And since we are imagining an awfully unbelievable story, well also d that you served some 42 years for a crime that you didn’t commit and then you were told that you didn’t qualify for any compensation because of a past felony.
Wait – I want you to get this. A man was falsely accused of murder and served 42 year in prison for a crime that he didn’t commitment and because of unfair state laws he doesn’t qualify for any reparations for this injustice simply because of a crime in his past.
Yes, this story sounds to unbelievable to be true, but it is a completely accurate account of the tragic life of Clifford Williams, Jr.
It was May 2, 1976, while asleep in bed, Jeanette Williams was murdered, and Nina Marshall was brutally shot. Williams would be arrested and prosecuted and would spend four decades in prison while desperately seeking help to restore his freedom.
Facing denial after denial, he says he did not lose hope and did not allow his spirit to be corroded by his wrongful imprisonment.
Williams says that they only way he survived for so long was because he placed his faith in God and trusted that justice would prevail.
After serving 42 years with his nephew Nathan Myers, a State Attorney’s Office investigation found there was no evidence the men could have committed the 1976 murder, on March 28, 2019, Williams and Nathan Myers were finally released from prison.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t stop with his release and reunification with his family. While organizations like Operation New Hope have assisted Mr. Williams and provided some resources his needs are still significant.
Here’s the problem. Despite spending 43 years in prison, only Myers qualifies for compensation under the state’s Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act. Yes, despite his wrongful incarceration, Williams may never receive any monetary help or compensation for the time he lost in prison.
The act limits compensation to people who don’t have violent felony convictions or don’t have two or more convictions. Because Myers had no prior convictions he qualifies for payment, but Williams had two convictions and does not.
It’s a tragic situation.
Based on the current law and calculations, Williams and Myers could potentially qualify for $2.6 million from the state according to their attorney. She filed a motion last week to declare parts of the state law unconstitutional. The motion says that the law is “entirely a political decision, as opposed to one based in policy.” The lawyer also argues the cap on compensation is unconstitutional.
Here is the other unique part about this case – it was the first-ever exoneration brought by a prosecutor-driven conviction review unit in Florida. Major kudos to State Attorney Melissa Nelson for being bold, courageous, compassionate and fair. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Hopefully, the courts will do the right thing this time around and award Clifford the compensation he deserves, but I am not holding my breath.
Signing off from the Duval County Courthouse,