An uncle and nephew who had been imprisoned for 42 years for a Florida murder were vindicated Thursday when prosecutors asked a judge to vacate their convictions, saying they no longer believed in the men's guilt.
Clifford Williams, 76, and Hubert "Nathan" Myers, 61, wiped away tears after the judge said she was vacating their convictions. They are the first men cleared since the state attorney's office in Jacksonville started an initiative last year reviewing claims of wrongful conviction, the first effort of its kind in Florida.
"When we have an opportunity to correct errors, we should do so," State Attorney Melissa Nelson said.
Myers, who was only 18 when convicted, said at a news conference after the hearing that the first thing he wanted to do is re-establish ties with his family since "everything else is second." He thanked Nelson and Shelley Thibodeau, the lead attorney who re-examined the case.
"Everyone else had plugs in their ears and wouldn't listen," said Myers, who recounted how he reached out to Thibodeau's office after reading about the wrongful-conviction initiative in a newspaper. "I tried and tried and tried."
The men were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 1976 fatal shooting of Jeanette Williams and the attempted murder of her girlfriend, Nina Marshall. The women, who knew the defendants socially, were asleep in bed at the time of the shooting.
Williams died instantly but Marshall was able to flag down a car that drove her to a hospital. She identified Williams and Myers as the shooters.
The men claimed they had been at a birthday party a block from the shooting, and other party-goers backed up their alibis.
Their first trial ended in mistrial; the men were convicted at a second trial during which prosecutors contended a drug debt was the motive. Defense attorneys presented no witnesses and entered no evidence but instead attacked Marshall's credibility as a witness.
No physical evidence linked the shootings to the men and the case relied solely on the testimony of Marshall, who said the men had fired their shots from the foot of her bed.
"In fact, the physical and scientific evidence actually contradicts her testimony about what happened," according to a report from the state attorney's office outlining the reasons for vacating the convictions.
Broken glass along with bullet holes in a curtain and an aluminum screen showed the shots came from outside a bedroom window, the report said. Forensics evidence also showed only one gun was fired.
Marshall died in 2001 and investigators re-examining the case were unable to question her.
The report said another man who died in 1994 had claimed responsibility for the slaying and Myers answered questions truthfully during a polygraph test taken as part of the review of innocence.
"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 said.