FLORIDA PASSES BILL TO COMPENSATE EXONERATED DEATH ROW INMATE
May 2, 2014: As the last act of its legislative session, the Florida Senate passed a bill allowing the state to compensate James Richardson, who had been wrongfully sentenced to death and incarcerated for 21 years. Richardson, a black man, was convicted by an all-white jury in the 1967 poisoning deaths of his seven children. Many years later, in 1988, Bessie Reece, a former babysitter confessed to the crime. Bessie was also on parole at the time of the murders for killing her ex-husband with a poison. The facts regarding Bessie Reeceās murdered husband were never brought up in court and the prosecution tried very hard to keep that fact from coming up in the court proceedings. The confession prompted an investigation that revealed that witnesses had been beaten to convince them to falsely testify against Richardson.
In 1989, Richardson's conviction was thrown out and he was released.
Richardson, now a frail old man, had not been able to receive compensation for this injustice because the evidence from his case had been lost or destroyed. Now he will be able to apply for compensation based on the special prosecutor's investigation and the order to release him from prison.
The Senate took the final step, passing the bill unanimously at 9:15 p.m., in the closing minutes of the lawmakersā 60-day session. After previous efforts failed for years, lawmakers supporting Richardson took a different approach, narrowly modifying the 2008 Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act to include Richardson. The law allows the wrongly convicted to receive $50,000 for each year of their imprisonment up to $2 million, plus a tuition waiver. But they must prove their innocence. Thatās impossible in Richardsonās case, with no DNA and other evidence lost or destroyed.
Under the bill passed today, Richardson could apply for compensation on the strength of the special prosecutorās investigation and order to release him from prison. On Thursday, Richardson said would be grateful for the stateās formal acknowledgement that he was innocent and not just free. The money was less important, he said, but also mattered.
Richardson said he would use the money to make a comfortable home for himself and his wife. He is deeply religious and said he would like to found a church. āIām not ever going to quit working.ā Thompson accepted applause when the bill passed 38-0. (Sources: Herald-Tribune, 02/05/2014)