The Phoenix Flyer

Jacksonville man wrongfully imprisoned for 43 years is due compensation, lawmakers say

By: - February 21, 2020 11:58 am

Clifford Williams speaks in the Florida Capitol, where he may be eligible for $2.15 million in compensation for his wrongful murder conviction. For 43 years, Williams maintained he was innocent, and a team of exoneration attorneys and conviction-review prosecutors helped him prove it. Photo: Danielle Brown

Compensation for Clifford Williams, imprisoned for 43 years for a murder he didn’t commit, is moving forward in the Florida Legislature.

Florida senators who oversee appropriations issues approved a claims bill this week to award Williams a $2.15 million annuity — roughly $50,000 for each year he spent in prison on the murder charge.

Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Kimberly Daniels, both from Jacksonville, are sponsors of the bill.

Under current law, Williams does not qualify for state compensation because he had two prior felonies before being wrongfully sentenced to Death Row for a 1976 murder in Jacksonville. After five years, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Having always insisted he was innocent, Williams was exonerated and released in February 2019.

The Legislature is pushing the compensation regardless of the disqualification.

“This claims bill is about innocence,” Gibson said. “It’s about a man who was not a saint but was not a murderer, either. Yet for 43 years, Mr. Clifford Williams languished in prison for a crime he did not commit.”

The Conviction Integrity Unit of the 14th Circuit State Attorney’s Office reviewed Williams’ case and urged the court to dismiss his conviction and sentence. The same review exonerated and freed his nephew, Nathan Myers, who was convicted of the murder along with Williams.

The Innocence Project of Florida and attorney George E. Schulz Jr. of Holland and Knight helped Williams regain his liberty. They charged no fees.

Melissa Nelson, now the 14th Circuit’s state attorney, was the first in the state to establish a conviction integrity unit to investigate credible claims of wrongful convictions.

“While we cannot give him back lost time and opportunity, we can be enablers of the hopes, dreams and desires Mr. Williams most certainly thought about and yearned for for 43 years,” Gibson said, calling on senators to support her claim bill.

The claims bill now advances to the full Senate.

In the state House, the claim is pending before the Judiciary Committee.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper. Contact her at [email protected]