This week in innocence: James Richardson

Perhaps you’ve read about some horrible cases of wrongful conviction. You probably still haven’t read about one like this:

His fate was decided swiftly. The jury returned a guilty verdict in 84 minutes. A judge handed down a death sentence 15 minutes after that.

But, for James Richardson, true justice arrived more slowly. He would spend 21 years in prison before his murder conviction was finally thrown out in 1989.

As for an apology?

He’s still waiting.

Today, nearly 47 years after the migrant farm worker was seemingly wrongly accused of poisoning his seven young children in Arcadia, the state of Florida may finally get around to offering him some version of atonement.

A state House committee will meet this afternoon to discuss passing a bill written specifically for Richardson, now 77. The bill will allow him to seek compensation ­— as much as $3 million — that he had previously been denied because of a legal technicality.

You see, Florida only allows recompense when a wrongly convicted person proves their innocence. Because it took so long for the state to reconsider the case, witnesses had died and evidence had vanished.

The state was convinced Richardson’s conviction was unjust, but there was no new evidence, such as DNA, that absolutely confirmed he did not commit the crime.

In other words, he was still guilty until proven innocent.

Read the whole thing for the heartbreaking details.

Now seems like a good time to remind everyone that Florida lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott (R) are doing everything they can to limit post-conviction petitions and speed up the rate at which the state executes people.

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
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Radley Balko · April 8