PBCBA BAR BULLETINS PBCBA Bulletin - January 2020 - Page 7

INNOCENCE PROJECT 21 People – 460 Years - It is Time to Stand Up NELLIE L. KING “Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. As lawyers, we cannot turn a blind eye when we encounter injustice. It is our obligation as members of the Bar to challenge and change the criminal justice system when the innocent are wrongfully incarcerated. It is the end of the year, time for my report on the annual work of the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF). 1 It is also time to request your support in aiding the continued success of IPF, an organization woefully underfunded, yet vital to righting the wrongs in Florida’s criminal justice system. Join me in supporting this effort which represents hope to the unlawfully incarcerated. Please consider a firm or individual sponsorship to the Fourth Annual Stand Up for Innocence Comedy Event to be held February 6, 2020, at 7:00 p.m. at the Kelsey Theater in Lake Park and co-hosted by the Innocence Project of Florida and the Palm Beach County Bar Association. Individual tickets are also available at a rate of $100 (general admission) and $ 50 (Public Interest lawyers and students). Admission for judges is complimentary. Partner sponsor: $2,500 • • Ten tickets to the comedy show and reception with preferred seating • • Recognition in event promotional materials, including the IPF newsletter and social media, the IPF website for one year, and in the event program and sponsor boards • • $2,500 dollars could pay for expert reexamination of evidence and in- court expert appearance Friend sponsor: $1,000 • • Four tickets to the comedy show and reception with preferred seating • • Recognition in event promotional materials, including the IPF newsletter and social media, the IPF website for one year, and in the event program and sponsor boards • • $1,000 could pay for DNA testing of one sample of evidence for a client The photos above are of Clifford Williams (pictured in striped shirt) and his nephew, Hubert Nathan Myers who were exonerated after serving almost 43 years in prison for a crime they did not commit. They were released from prison on March 28, 2019. 2019 has been a big year for Innocence. Last year, the number of IPF exonerees totaled 18 citizens who collectively served more than 350 years for crimes they did not commit. This year, the Project count rose to 21 wrongfully convicted people, serving more than 460 years in prison. These numbers are astonishing when one considers the opportunity costs to these innocent individuals - the opportunity costs associated with isolation, loneliness, the inability to access family, education and jobs, and, simply, the loss of dignity. There is a face, a family, a story behind each one of the Innocence Project successes. One highlight of IPF this year was the work to secure exonerations of Hubert Nathan Myers and Clifford Williams after the two spent 42 years wrongfully incarcerated. Myers and Williams represent the first exonerations in Florida initiated by a Conviction Integrity Review Investigation (CIR), led by Fourth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson. Mr. Myers and Mr. Williams were convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1976 for the murder of Jeanette Williams (no relation to Mr. Williams) and attempted murder of Nina Marshall. Mr. Myers was just 18 years old at the time of the conviction, and his uncle, Mr. Williams, was 34. In September 1976, mere months after their arrest, the State jointly tried Mr. Myers and Mr. Williams. After a two-day trial, the jury found both men guilty. Defense counsel waived opening statements, presented no PBCBA BAR BULLETIN 7 significant witnesses, and entered no evidence. The only evidence the State presented was testimony from the surviving victim, Nina Marshall. No physical or scientific evidence linked the defendants to the crime, and no witnesses provided any testimony to corroborate Marshall. The State’s Conviction Integrity investigation into Mr. Myers’ and Mr. Williams’ case revealed both previously unpresented evidence, including favorable physical evidence, and multiple alibi witnesses, as well as evidence discovered since the time of trial, including multiple confessions to the murder by another man linked to the scene by the original investigation. Additional evidence from a crime scene reconstruction, sound experiments, and additional witness interviews, along with evidence available at trial, discredited the State’s trial theory and only material fact witness. The CIR report concluded, “A jury presented with the evidence known by the CIR could not conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that either defendant committed the shooting and murder,” and that there “is no credible evidence of guilt, and likewise, there is credible evidence of innocence.” Seth Miller and Krista Dolan, attorneys with the Innocence Project of Florida, filed a motion to vacate Mr. Myer’s conviction and sentence, while George E. “Buddy” Schulz Jr. of Holland & Knight filed a nearly identical motion on behalf of Mr. Williams. (Continued on next page)