State Lawmakers Consider Bill to Compensate Wrongfully Convicted Arcadia Man

Apr 17, 2014

Florida lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow a former Arcadia man to receive compensation for the more than two decades he spent in prison after he was wrongly convicted of murder.

In 1968 James Richardson was found guilty of poisoning his seven children to death and spent 21 years in prison including several years on death row.  The children’s’ former babysitter admitted to the murders in 1988.

A year later, Richardson was released from prison following a review of his case led by then Dade County state attorney Janet Reno. Reno’s investigation found evidence of perjured testimony in his trial and a faulty investigation of the murders by the Desoto County Sheriff’s Office.

Richardson was the first person in Florida to petition for compensation through the 2008 Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act. The law provides $50,000 to victims for each year they spent in prison.

Miami attorney Robert Barrar represents Richardson.  He said his client’s case doesn’t apply the way the law is written now.

“The statute that was passed was really designed for those who can establish their innocence through DNA and since DNA didn’t exist back in the late 60s and all the evidence was destroyed, there was no way for us to show what we needed to show according to the administrative law judge,” said Barrar.

State Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, and Rep. David Kerner, D-Lake Worth, have filed companion bills that would amend the law to allow Richardson, now 78, to receive compensation.

The Senate version will be considered in its final committee stop on April 21.  The House bill still has two committee stops before a vote by the full chamber.

Barrar won’t speculate on whether the legislature will pass the bill in the remaining two weeks of the session, but said he won’t give up trying to get compensation for his client.  “All I can say is anybody with a conscience would do what’s right for this man.  What was done to him all those years ago was an incredible injustice,” said Barrar.  “He was practically lynched over 40 years ago and he deserves what he’s asking for now.”

Richardson is now a minister in Wichita, Kansa.