Legislation sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) to compensate 76-year-old Clifford Williams who was imprisoned 43 years for a crime he did not commit was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis today.
“Mr. Williams has been steadfast in his belief that justice would prevail in the end,” said Senator Gibson, who agreed to sponsor the bill during the 2020 legislative session after hearing his story, and meeting with him personally. “Today, the Governor honored that long-held faith.”
Just 34-years old at the time of his arrest, Williams was charged in a 1976 shooting which left one woman dead and another injured. Based largely on the testimony of the injured woman, and despite the lack of any forensic evidence, Williams was sentenced to death for the murder. The Florida Supreme Court later reversed his death sentence to life imprisonment.
Last year, a Conviction Integrity Review Division created by newly-elected State Attorney for the 4th Judicial Circuit, Melissa Nelson, reviewed the Williams conviction, found his claims of innocence credible, and identified another man who confessed to the killing following a drug dispute with the victim.
Williams was released from prison last year, following a hearing before Judge Angela Cox, who noted that “justice demands” that the sentence be vacated. But he remained barred from receiving compensation under the “clean hands” section of Florida’s wrongful incarceration law, which otherwise would have allowed compensation up to $50,000 for every year of a wrongful incarceration, to a maximum of $2 million.
The counsel for Williams sought another path, proposing a claims bill be filed instead to compensate Williams for his 43-years of wrongful imprisonment.