Richardson to look on today as Senate approves payment for years behind barsby John Kennedy | May 1st, 2014
An elderly man once convicted of one of the most heinous crimes in Florida history, spoke softly Wednesday, sitting in a law firm’s office two blocks from the state Capitol.
“We’ve tried to survive, the best we know how,” said James Richardson, 78, who lawmakers today are expected to be made eligible for $1.2 million in state compensation after he was wrongfully imprisoned for more than two decades, including four years on Death Row.
“No, I don’t have any animosity,” he added. “I can say that deeply from my heart. But I just was hurt.”
The Post spoke with Richardson who come to Tallahassee where the state Senate today is expected to approve a bill making him eligible for a $1.2 million payment for his years behind bars. The interview is here: http://bit.ly/1rS3Zvy
Richardson was a farmworker in the DeSoto County town of Arcadia when he was accused of poisoning his seven children with insecticide after they came home from school for a lunch of rice, beans and cheese.
It was just a few days before Halloween 1967.
Richardson was quickly convicted, in a case shaped by a hard-driving prosecutor and sheriff. But amid lingering questions about how justice was meted out to a poor black man in a segregated town, then-Gov. Bob Martinez in 1989 ordered a special investigation.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Janet Reno, later a U.S. Attorney General, concluded Richardson’s conviction was built on perjured testimony, concealed records, and a failure to investigate evidence that a neighbor woman who babysat the children had killed them.
Richardson was freed. But the pain of his loss lingers. So do the nightmares stemming from his years behind bars, which included being prepped for electrocution.
Advocates for Richardson brought him to Arcadia last fall, where he attended a church service and met many townspeople. He could not bring himself, however, to visit the seven tiny headstones which mark the graves of his children.
Richardson said Wednesday he felt his heart couldn’t endure the sight.
“There’s not enough money in the whole world that can help me with the situation I’ve been through,” said Richardson, who now lives in Wichita, Kansas. “Money is no good. Life is better than money.”
Lawyers who say they are working for free have advocated to keep Richardson’s story alive before lawmakers. Among them is Robert Barrar, a former law partner of the late Ellis Rubin, who ran the legal campaign that led to Richardson’s conviction being overturned.
Because Richardson’s conviction was so long ago, and the terms of his release unique, he does not qualify for state payment under Florida’s five-year-old wrongful incarceration law.
The bill (CS/SB 36) expected to be voted on today in the Senate would change that. House sponsor of the legislation is Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, who said passage of the legislation will help “turn the corner in Florida’s history.”
The House last week approved the bill 116-0. Richardson plans to be in the Senate gallery today when the measure wins final state approval.
“I never gave up hope,” Richardson said Wednesday. “My faith was so strong in God.”