A documentary film was screened Thursday at the Fort Myers Film Festival telling the story of a local man who was wrongfully convicted and spent 21 years of his life behind bars. The film played in the very building where his conviction was handed down.
In 1968, former Arcadia resident James Joseph Richardson was found guilty of murdering his seven children. He spent the next 21 years of his life in prison including several years on death row.
The children’s former babysitter, Betsy Reese, admitted to the murders in 1988, but by that time she was in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s disease and her testimony was inadmissible.
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.
Filmmaker Ty Flowers tells Richardson’s story in the documentary, “Time Simply Passes,” The film was screened at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center. That used to be the Lee County Courthouse which is the very same building where Richardson was convicted.
“The assumption that I always had was that because it was just a triumph of an event and it was so well covered that everyone just kind of thought it worked out and that he was released and there was going to be a happy end to a long sad story and that the legacy of racial oppression in Florida was behind us,” said Flowers.
“It was a surprise when I found out a couple years ago that he had been just basically living in poverty and trying to find some way to navigate the bureaucratic system of the Florida state legislature to try to obtain some kind of compensation or some sort of settlement to allow him to get back to living his life.”
Richardson was the first person to petition for compensation through Florida’s 2008 Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act. Flowers says Richardson, who now lives in Wichita, Kansas received his very first payment this year. Richardson, now in his 80s, will receive $50,000 for each year he was in prison.