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Bill To Compensate Clifford Williams Heading To Senate, House Floors

A man wrongfully imprisoned for more than 40 years could be awarded about $2 million if his claim clears the Florida House and Senate. Two bills moving alongside that claim could help other people found innocent receive compensation as well.

"When children would get up and open gifts, I was on my way to Raiford, Florida, to visit my father on death row," Tracy Williams-Magwood recently told a House committee.

Her father, Clifford Williams, was sentenced to death in 1976. He was convicted of murder and attempted murder based on the testimony from one of the victims. After four years on death row, he was re-sentenced to life in prison. Despite witnesses, an alibi and evidence contradicting the victim's testimony, Williams spent almost 43 years in prison before being set free in 2019.

"He wasn't there to see me get my bachelor's degree, but in December, he'll see his grandson graduate with his bachelor's," Williams-Magwood says.

However, Williams isn't eligible for relief under the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act. That's because of a so-called 'clean hands' provision. It bars people from applying based on their prior criminal record. In William's case, he was found guilty of robbery and attempted arson. People in his position have to file claims bills through the Florida legislature. Mark Schlakman is a former board chair for the Innocence Project of Florida. He says the claims bill process is complicated.

"You're filing legislation—or someone on your behalf—to advance your issue. Your individual issue amidst everything else in the Florida legislature. It's very difficult. It's not that it can't happen, but it requires time, energy, effective advocacy, it's just so much more challenging and complex."

The Innocence Project is a non-profit that helps free innocent prisoners. It also helps them rebuild their lives. Williams' claim is advancing to the House and Senate floor for a vote. Moving parallel to it is a bill that would delete parts of the clean hands provision. Schlakman says there's been a push to get rid of that law for a while.

"I think when you combine that history with his compelling case—the combination of that really kind of aligns the legislative process and the sponsors who are carrying these bills. Both the claims bill and the amendment to the compensation statute to get this done without any further delay," Shlakman says.

The proposal to change the clean hands' act passed a full chamber vote in the Senate, and a similar house version is heading to the floor.