Two Black men, Clifford Williams, 76, and Hubert “Nathan” Myers, 61, are finally free from prison after 43 years. The men, who are uncle and nephew, spent over four decades in a Florida prison for a murder they didn’t commit. Although the vindication was long overdue, how their case was handled is a complete travesty of justice.
The last time they were free men, they were ages 33 and 18, respectively. Williams and Myers were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 1976 shooting death of Jeanette Williams and the attempted murder of her girlfriend, Nina Marshall.
The two women were acquaintances of the men (the victim who died was Williams’ tenant) and were shot while they were in bed sleeping. Marshall identified them as the shooters. However, the men denied the allegations, claiming they were at a birthday party a block away from the shooting and could have other party-goers corroborate that they were there.
That never happened.
From the inception of the investigation, everything was handled improperly. Witness for the two innocent Black men were never questioned, their own defense attorney never provided a defense, and there were bullet holes in the window screen and the curtains. But the main witness [Marshall] said the two shooters were inside, and at the foot of her bed.
She testified that she saw the muzzle flashes from two guns, but when ballistics ran tests it determined that the bullets at the scene were fired from only one gun. Much of the case rested on her testimony, which changed throughout the ordeal.
None of these factors were considered during the two-day trial in 1976.
Myers, who had just graduated from high school, was even offered a plea deal if he testified against his uncle. Both Williams and Myers maintained their innocence.
Myers, through his diligence and dedication, secured the two Black men’s freedom. He had read an article in prison about a unit in Florida reviewing wrongful state convictions, so he took a chance and wrote a letter to the Innocence Project of Florida, sharing his and his uncle’s case and also sharing a copy of an affidavit from another person who claimed another man, identified as Nathaniel Lawson, confessed to the murder.
Lawson died in 1994.
The Conviction Integrity Review unit released a 77-page report on their case, including all the evidence that was never provided to a jury in the first trial.
“While no single item of evidence, in and of itself, exonerates Defendant Myers or Defendant Williams, the culmination of all the evidence, most of which the jury never heard or saw, leaves no abiding confidence in the convictions or the guilt of the defendants,” the report states. “It is the opinion of the CIR that these men would not be convicted by a jury today if represented by competent counsel who presented all of the exculpatory evidence that exists in this case for the jury’s consideration.”
Myers thanked the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Innocence Project of Florida, who filed the motion necessary for their charges to be cleared and helped in their representation.
“I lost almost 43 years of my life that I can never get back, but I am looking ahead and will focus on enjoying my freedom with my family,” Myers said in a statement released by the State’s Attorney’s Office.
Florida is one of 33 states that compensate people who were wrongly imprisoned and subsequently exonerated. The state stipulates that people can receive $50,000 per year that they were wrongfully convicted but with a cap of $2,000,000. The compensation law excludes anyone with either one prior violent felony or more than one non-violent felony.
Myers is eligible for the compensation. Williams, because of a prior felony, is not.
Freedom is not enough in this instance or other instances where Black men have been railroaded by law enforcement and the judicial system. In 2018, the Innocence Project, nationally, had nine innocent people’s sentences vacated, the most ever in its almost three-decade history. It also helped pass 17 wrongful conviction reforms in 14 states. The Black men spent more than 215 years in prison combined for crimes they did not commit.
According to a Michigan State University study, the harsh reality is Black men are 50 percent more likely to be convicted of murders when they are innocent and will spend a longer time in jail before they are returned to freedom.
Freedom is not a reward when a person is innocent.