Key House and Senate panels Tuesday unanimously approved a plan that would provide $2.15 million to a man who spent 43 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted in a murder and attempted murder in 1976 in Jacksonville.
The House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee backed identical bills (HB 6507 and SB 28). House members apologized to former inmate Clifford Williams, who briefly spoke to the House panel. “On behalf of the state of Florida, we apologize,” Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, said.
Later, Senate bill sponsor Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, told the Senate panel that the "bill is about innocence. It's about a man who was not a saint but not a murderer either." Williams’ exoneration came after a review of his case by the Conviction Integrity Review Division established by State Attorney Melissa Nelson in the 4th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Clay, Duval and Nassau counties.
The review revealed that “multiple credible alibi witnesses” were not called to testify during his 1976 trial, House Special Master Jordan Jones wrote in a report on the bill. “I find that claimant has successfully demonstrated, by clear and convincing evidence, that he is actually innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted in 1976,” Jones wrote in the eight-page report.
House bill sponsor Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, said the compensation would not make up for the time Williams spent in prison or the experiences he missed over the years with his family. But Daniels said the bill “sends a message loud and clear that here at the House of Representatives, we care.”
The bill, which would provide $50,000 for each year Williams spent in prison, must clear the House Judiciary Committee before it could go to the full House. Gibson's bill needs to clear the Senate Appropriations Committee before it could go to the full Senate.