The financial fate of a Jacksonville man who was locked up for more than four decades for a crime he did not commit is in the Governor’s hands.
On Tuesday, a relief bill that would give Clifford Williams long-deferred compensation was sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his consideration.
The legislation from the two Jacksonville Democrats passed resoundingly in 2020, a year when there was a lot of talk and a little bit of action on criminal justice reform generally.
The appropriation will offer what Daniels calls “a small token of compensation” for a life derailed by a quick-to-convict local justice system that was still wrestling with Jim Crow philosophies.
In May 1976, Jeannette Williams was killed in the New Town neighborhood of Jacksonville. Ms. Williams’ domestic partner, Nina Marshall, identified Mr. Williams (no relation to the victim) as one of two men who shot her.
The purported motive was sordid, but clear: Mr. Williams was 33 and dealt heroin. Marshall was a customer, and she claimed Mr. Williams fired shots over back rent.
Mr. Williams and his alleged conspirator , Hubert “Nate” Myers, were convicted on hearsay evidence. Two subsequent appeals were denied.
Then Mr. Williams’ alleged co-conspirator read of Jacksonville’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which did the work to secure his exoneration.
However, despite that success, previous felony convictions had disqualified the now-76 year old from relief.
Williams was excused from death row in 1980, though more than half his life would progress before he knew actual freedom.
The Innocence Project was instrumental in the exoneration, a priority of 4th Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson.
Throughout the process, Williams projected positivity, even as he returned to Tallahassee time and again to plead his case to lawmakers.
And assuming the Governor comes through, he will have financial freedom to go along with his long-awaited exoneration.