Legislation that would compensate a man wrongly convicted of murder passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday without opposition.
Jacksonville resident Clifford Williams was exonerated in March 2019 after spending 43 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He’s not eligible for compensation under current law despite the decades behind bars because of two prior felony convictions.
A bill sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson (SB 28) would give Williams about $2.15 million in restitution for the time he served in prison.
Williams and his nephew Hubert Nathan Myers were arrested in 1976 in connection with the murder of Jeanette Williams, no relation, and the attempted murder of her domestic partner. Williams was initially sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison after four years on death row.
Jacksonville’s conviction integrity unit started examining the case at the request of Myers in 2017. It found that the men’s claims of innocence had merit, and there wasn’t enough evidence to support the convictions. It noted there was “no definitive proof of innocence,” but there was enough evidence to support that they were “probably” innocent.
“Forty-three years is a very long time,” Gibson said. “A whole lot has changed over those years.”
Gibson said she visited with Williams and his family before filing the claims bill to “make sure he had the support system to help him successfully reintegrate back into society.”
“And just to know the gentleman, the true gentleman that he is and to certainly express apologies that I could for 43 years of knowing that you’re innocent,” she said. “It’s pretty tough, it’s pretty tough for me to talk to him.”
This was the second stop for Gibson’s bill. It has two more committee hearings ahead. The next stop is the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice.