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Wrongfully Imprisoned Man Now Eligible For Compensation After Last-Minute Legislative Move

The Florida Channel

More than four decades ago James Richardson was convicted of poisoning and killing his seven children.

Richardson initially received the death penalty, but it was lessened to life in prison. The sentence was overturned in 1989 because of misconduct by prosecutors and witnesses lying during his trial. But Richardson could not be compensated under state law because he couldn’t prove his innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s an issue central to the case, says Democratic Senator Darren Soto:

“We have an opportunity to right a wrong. A wrong that happened in 1968, years ago. So long ago that the DNA evidence isn’t even around anymore, and that’s a big reason why we needed this bill," Soto said.

Without the DNA evidence, proving Richardson’s innocence beyond a reasonable doubt became a challenge, which until now, has been almost insurmountable. The legislature approved a bill Friday that would make Richardson eligible for a million dollars in compensation. The move, says Democratic Senator Geraldine Thompson, is a long time coming for Richardson:

“I think that at 78 years old, this will provide Mr. Richardson an opportunity. He wants to build a church and this will provide him an opportunity to realize some of the dreams that were deferred in his young life," Thompson said.

The bill also increases compensation eligibility to include people whose prosecution has been deferred on appeal—which is what happened to Richardson when the Governor at the time appointed a special prosecutor to re-examine his case. But Thompson notes the bill does not guarantee Richardson will get a million dollars, “it simply makes them eligible to apply to the department of legal affairs.”

Under the proposal on its way to Governor Rick Scott, Richardson will still have to apply for compensation to the state. Richardson was at the Capital Thursday to watch the bill get what should have been a final vote—but that vote was pushed back due to disputes between Democrats and Republicans. When the proposal finally passed Friday, Richardson was not there to see it. Decades after his guilty sentence, the woman who worked as Richardson’s baby sitter claimed she had killed his children.