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Florida Man Wrongfully Incarcerated For Almost 43 Years To Get Relief Under Bill Heading To Governor

Man in suit and tie smiles as he walks up to the podium. Beside him are three women.
Steve Cannon
AP Photo

A man wrongfully imprisoned for almost 43 years could soon get more than $2 million from the state. The proposal cleared the Florida House on Tuesday and is on its way to the governor's desk.

Clifford Williams was charged with murder and attempted murder back in the 70s. He was on death row for about four years before being resentenced to life in prison. After an investigation, the state found Williams innocent. However, he didn't qualify for state compensation because of prior convictions for attempted arson and robbery.

"That man I used to be, I'm not him no more," Williams says.

The only way he could be compensated was through a claims bill presented to lawmakers for approval. 

"Mr. Clifford Williams did not do time actually by himself because his family did time with him," says Rep. Kimberly Daniels (D-Jacksonville), who sponsored the House bill.

William's daughter, Tracy Williams-Magwood, agrees.

"At the age of four, going into death row, sitting among inmates like Ted Bundy and John Spenkelink and other inmates who have since been executed, I was that little girl," Williams-Magwood says.

She stood alongside her father and other family members during a Tuesday press conference celebrating the passage of the bill. Rep. Wengay Newton (D-St. Petersburg) says the legislature is warming up to a specific type of claims bill.

Man in suit and tie is hugged by a younger woman with glasses.
Credit Steve Cannon / AP Photo
AP Photo
Clifford Williams, right, gets a hug from his daughter during a news conference after his claims bill for wrongful imprisonment passed during session Tuesday March 10, 2020, in Tallahassee, Fla.

"You can never compensate for taking away 43 years of somebody's life. They're warming to that part of it because a lot of times those claims bills will go through, and they'll be vetoed by the governor," Newton says. "I'm praying that the governor won't do that to this one."

Rep. Daniels says more legislation is coming to try and fix the criminal justice system. She motioned to Rep. Dianne Hart (D-Tampa), who sponsored a bill this year to require every state attorney's office to have an integrity review unit.

"We think that's critically important because that will give everybody who believes they have been wrongfully accused an opportunity to get their voice heard over again," Hart says. Hart's bill didn't get a hearing, and she plans to keep filing it.

As lawmakers strategize their moves for next year, Williams has been making plans of his own. He wants to become a writer. "43 years," he says. "I had a lot I had to say and talk about." He says he also wants to help his grandchildren with college.

Only four people have been granted relief under a state law meant to fast-track money to people who have been wrongfully incarcerated.

Robbie Gaffney graduated from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Animal Crossing, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.