SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER
JACKSONVILLE – After almost 43 years behind bars, Hubert Nathan Myers and Clifford Williams will walk free, exonerated by new evidence of actual innocence uncovered by a Conviction Integrity Review (CIR) investigation by Fourth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson’s Office.
The state’s investigation, led by CIR Director Shelley Thibodeau concluded “that the office has lost faith in the convictions of both Defendant Myers and Defendant Williams.”
Seth Miller and Krista Dolan, attorneys with the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF), filed a motion to vacate Myer’s conviction and sentence, while George E. “Buddy” Schulz Jr. of Holland & Knight filed a nearly identical motion on behalf of Williams.
Fourth Judicial Circuit Judge Angela Cox ordered the convictions for both men vacated in a short hearing on March 28, freeing Myers and Williams from life sentences after almost 43 years wrongfully incarcerated. The exoneration of these two men marks the first exonerations in Florida initiated by the conclusions of a state attorney conviction integrity investigation.
Myers said, “This is such a blessing. I am so grateful to the State Attorney’s Office and the Innocence Project of Florida for getting me to this point. I lost almost 43 years of my life that I can never get back. But I’m looking ahead and will focus on enjoying my freedom with my family.”
Letter fuels review
The CIR investigation originated from a letter Myers sent to the Fourth Circuit State Attorney’s Office on Jan. 17, 2017. The office initiated a re-examination of the case and began a comprehensive review of Myer’s claim of wrongful conviction. The CIR’s report noted, “Every investigative step the CIR took corroborated Defendant Myers’ claim of innocence.”
Myers and Williams were convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1976 for the murder of Jeanette Williams (no relation to Williams) and the attempted murder of Nina Marshall. Myers was 18 years old at the time of the conviction, and his uncle, Williams, was 34. In September 1976, months after their arrest, the state jointly tried Myers and Williams.
After a two-day trial, the jury found both men guilty. Defense counsel waived opening statements, presented no 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.
More CIU units
IPF Executive Director Seth Miller said, “The CIR did an incredibly diligent and thorough job untangling an old, complicated case to reveal and correct a clear miscarriage of justice. The righting of this injustice for Myers and Williams is validation of Melissa Nelson’s vision for the CIR and Shelley Thibodeau’s persistence in finding the truth.”
IPF Staff Attorney Krista Dolan said, “We are so pleased that IPF was able to play a role in collaborating with the CIR to give Nathan and Clifford a new life in freedom. We look forward to more collaborative opportunities with this and other conviction integrity units to achieve justice for the innocent.”
In January 2018, Melissa Nelson’s office created the first conviction integrity unit (CIU) in Florida. There are now two additional units in Florida—the 13th Judicial Circuit under State Attorney Andrew Warren, and the 9th Judicial Circuit under State Attorney Aramis Ayala.
According to Nelson’s CIR report, the purpose of the division is to “review and investigate claims of actual innocence, and provide analysis and assistance to address the prevention of errors/issues which might lead to a miscarriage of justice.” Additionally, the State Attorney’s Office for the Fourth Judicial Circuit recognizes “When an innocent man or woman is convicted and the guilty person is not held accountable, justice as a whole suffers.”
The Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) represented Myers in these proceedings. Since 2003, IPF has assisted in the release from wrongful incarceration of 20 innocent individuals who have collectively served more than 440 years for the crimes of others.
Located in Tallahassee, IPF’s mission is to find and free the innocent in Florida prisons, help these individuals transition back into a changed society, and work to reform the criminal justice system. For more information, visit www.FloridaInnocence.org.