For 42 years, Clifford Williams Jr. and Hubert Nathan Myers had been imprisoned for murder. And although the two had repeatedly maintained their innocence, their respective life sentences made it seem unlikely that they would ever taste freedom again. When Williams and Myers attended a court hearing in 2019, however, neither of the men were able to contain their emotions.
In the early hours of May 2, 1976, Williams and nephew Myers had been attending a friend’s birthday celebration in Jacksonville, Florida. And while the occasion may have been a joyful one, the pair didn’t know back then that their presence at the party would ultimately change the courses of their lives – and for the worse.
You see, as Williams and Myers celebrated with other attendees, the sound of gunshots disrupted the frivolities. And upon hearing the commotion, the two men and others attending the birthday bash understandably rushed outside to see what was going on.
The scene that the partygoers stumbled into was the aftermath of a double shooting, which ultimately killed one woman and injured another. At the time of the incident, the couple had been sleeping in their bed at their home in Morgan Street, Jacksonville. And, crucially, the pair had both known Williams and Myers.
The woman who had lost her life was Jeannette Williams, and she had died nearly instantaneously after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds. And while her girlfriend, Nina Marshall, was also struck by bullets, Marshall was somehow able to escape the crime scene and flag down a ride to hospital.
Then, after Marshall had arrived at the medical facility, she identified the people whom she believed had killed her partner. Specifically, she gave the names of Myers and Williams, who had been known to frequent her apartment, and police subsequently apprehended the nephew and uncle just hours after the crime had taken place.
Prior to the arrests, Williams had experienced run-ins with the police. He was also known to peddle heroin and ran a pool hall that Myers had managed. It later emerged, too, that Marshall herself was a drug user and a sex worker who had a history of swindling dealers. Nevertheless, she would claim in her statement that the shooting had been over unpaid rent.
Then, two months after that fateful night in May 1976, Myers and Williams found themselves on trial for the first-degree murder of Jeannette Williams and the attempted murder of Marshall. And during proceedings, Marshall claimed that the uncle and nephew had first entered the apartment she had shared with Williams before storming into their bedroom.
In her testimony, Marshall also asserted that Myers and Williams had then unleashed a horrific attack from the foot of the bed she had shared with her partner. She said, too, that the duo had fired their guns towards the women and had not stopped until all of their bullets had been used. In all, then, Marshall seemed convinced that the nephew and uncle had been the ones behind the crime.
Yet despite Marshall’s words, Myers and Williams’ first time in court ended in a mistrial. And when a second trial commenced in September 1976, proceedings didn’t get off to a promising start for the men, with Myers’ counsel not even issuing an opening statement. Lawyers defending the two also presented no evidence or witnesses that may have attested to their clients’ innocence.
Instead, Myers’ attorney relied solely upon their cross-examination of Marshall, hoping to establish her as an unreliable witness. If they could successfully call into question Marshall’s identification of Myers and Williams as the shooters, then perhaps the men would escape the proceedings with their freedom.
And given the decision of the defence counsel not to offer evidence or use any witnesses, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was nothing out there that could have been utilized to exonerate Myers and Williams. But that wasn’t so; in fact, numerous facts could have helped fight their case.
For one, Myers and Williams both had alibis at the time of the crime. They had been at their friend’s birthday celebrations – a fact that had been confirmed by 45 people who had also been present at the party. And many of these eyewitnesses had remembered the nephew and uncle being in attendance at the event when the sounds of gunshots rang out.
Yet none of these people were called to testify at Myers and Williams’ trial, nor was the State of Florida’s theory on how the crime unfolded called into question. Vital physical evidence from the scene of the shooting wasn’t shown to the jury, either.
Perhaps as a consequence of those failings, then, Myers and Williams’ trial was over in just two days. The jury found both men guilty, and they were each subsequently sentenced to life in prison. However, Williams was ultimately dealt an even larger blow, as it was later recommended that he be sentenced to death. He was 34 years old upon being incarcerated, while Myers was just 18.
And while Williams and Myers both protested their convictions, the Florida Supreme Court stood by the jury’s verdict after looking into the case. The court did, however, retract Williams’ death sentence, meaning he would spend life in prison like Myers. Given the young ages of both men, this would mean that each would likely spend decades behind bars.
However, Williams and Clifford never gave up on their shot at justice. As the years turned to decades and the pair remained in jail, they filed a number of appeals against their convictions. Both uncle and nephew maintained their innocence, too – even when their efforts to regain their freedom proved fruitless.
Yet it wasn’t until many years into their respective sentences that Williams and Meyers learned of some new evidence relating to their case. According to a ballistics report by the Tallahassee Regional Crime Lab, the bullets used in the shooting for which they had been convicted had come from a single gun – with the result being that it seemed unlikely there had been two shooters at the scene that night.
Furthermore, there was evidence to suggest that the shooter had actually stood outside the apartment and had instead fired through the bedroom window. The window pane had been broken in the attack, you see, while there were also holes through the curtain and screen. And investigators had additionally found glass on the bed, with this suggesting, too, that shots had been come from outside – rather than from the foot of the bed, as Marshall had testified.
Nor was the ballistics report the only piece of evidence to come to light during Williams and Myers’ incarceration. Another man, Nathaniel Lawson, had apparently claimed responsibility for the shooting to his friends, although he ultimately died in 1994 without ever having been investigated for the crime.
Given the new evidence that had come to light, then, Williams and Myers included the information in their subsequent appeals. Yet these attempts at clearing their names failed to exonerate them, nor did they have an impact upon their sentences or lead to a new trial. Consequently, the two men would languish in jail for four long decades.
But 2017 would bring a breakthrough for the nephew and uncle. In January of that year, Myers wrote to the Fourth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office affirming his innocence and asking for help with his case. And on this occasion, his appeal met with the Office’s criteria and was approved for review.
The development in Myers and Williams’ case came as a result of the introduction of Florida’s Conviction Integrity Review (CIR) division. The CIR department is a branch of the Fourth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, and its job is to investigate claims of innocence “that are capable of being substantiated by credible, factual information or evidence not previously considered by the original finder of fact.”
The CIR unit thus began work in January 2018, and Myers and Williams’ case was one of the first that it examined. The division subsequently spent a whole year investigating the matter, in fact. Then, in February 2019, it sent its findings to the Innocence Project of Florida. And the CIR department was convinced that there was sufficient evidence to have the nephew and uncle’s convictions overturned.
The CIR investigators claimed that the new findings in the case both contradicted the theory that the prosecutors had relied on in court and discredited Marshall’s testimony. They additionally pointed to the notion that Lawson had claimed responsibility for the shooting to a number of people, and there was also apparently evidence that could prove Lawson was at the scene of the crime when it had occurred.
And there was yet more that could potentially serve to exonerate Myers and Williams. For one, the pair’s alibis – that they were at a birthday party at the time of the shootings – seemed to be watertight. That’s because, as previously mentioned, there were a number of witnesses who remembered being with the men at the celebration at the exact moment when they had all heard gunshots.
The CIR review stated, then, that a “jury presented with the evidence known by the CIR could not conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that either defendant committed the shooting and murder.” The document also claimed that, in Myers and Williams’ case, there “is no credible evidence of guilt, and, likewise, there is credible evidence of innocence.”
The CIR assessment therefore recommended that the State Attorney’s Office approve motions to vacate Myers and Williams’ respective convictions and sentences. A post-conviction relief hearing was then held in March 2019 at the Duval County Courthouse, and it was here that the Honorable Angela Cox of the Fourth Judicial Circuit ordered the nephew and uncle’s convictions be overturned.
Finally, as a result of the judge’s ruling, Myers and Williams found themselves free men. And as the two had each spent 42 years in jail for crimes they hadn’t committed, it’s no wonder that they struggled to contain their emotions when they realized they had finally been exonerated.
Williams was 76 years of age at the time of his release, and he went on to reveal some of the heartache he had suffered while spending the majority of his life behind bars. Jacksonville, Florida, station WJXT recorded him as saying in March 2019, “My mother, she died while I was on death row, and I just wanted to get out.” He is then seen breaking down into tears.
Myers, meanwhile, was 61 on the occasion of the hearing that won him his freedom. And while speaking of his struggle to win exoneration, Myers told press, “I wrote [to the Florida] Innocence Project. I wrote to lawyers, [but] they wouldn’t listen. They told me my case was too old. They didn’t have the evidence to free us.”
Somehow, though, Myers never gave up hope of getting his life back. But after hearing Judge Cox say, “Mr. Williams and Mr. Myers, the indictments have been dismissed against you. You are free to go,” he experienced mixed emotions. He subsequently told WJXT, “It’s nerve-wracking right now, really. I’m nervous, you know, because I feel like I’m still locked up.”
Indeed, Myers suggested that he wouldn’t feel as though he was truly free until he returned to some sort of normalcy. He continued, “When I get with my family knowing I can look back, [that] I don’t have no officers around me telling me what to do or how to do it, and the reality hits in. I think I’ll be alright.”
Emerging as free men, Myers and Williams stood arm in arm outside of the court following their hearing. Overcome with emotion, Myers bent down and kissed the ground in apparent appreciation of his newfound liberty. And as he did so, he uttered simply, “Praise the Lord.”
Meanwhile, after the hearing, State Attorney Melissa Nelson claimed that the introduction of the CIR unit had made the men’s exoneration possible. WJXT reported her as saying, “[Myers’] letter sat for a year because, at that time, the Conviction Integrity Unit was still just an idea.” And Nelson added that he wasn’t the only person who believed they’d been wrongfully incarcerated.
In fact, dozens of prisoners all believed that their cases would benefit from reviews by the Conviction Integrity Unit. Nelson revealed, “When the unit became operational, Mr Myers’ letter was one of almost 100 petitions awaiting the newly hired Conviction Integrity Review Director, Shelly Thibodeau.”
In fact, at the time of Myers and Williams’ release, 200 requests had already been put forward to the Conviction Integrity Unit. So while the nephew and uncle were the first people to benefit from a review, they may not be the last. That’s because the Florida State’s Attorney Office is committed to pursuing justice in these cases.
Indeed, in a statement obtained by WJXT in March 2019, State Attorney Nelson said that it was her office’s duty to overturn wrongful convictions. She explained, “We have a continuing, post-conviction ethical obligation to pursue justice when we become aware of material evidence suggesting a conviction is not correct.”
And while Myers and Williams both appeared to be happy to have finally won back their hard-fought freedom, nothing could make up for the injustice that they had faced. Myers told the state attorney, “I lost almost 43 years of my life that I can never get back. But I am looking ahead and will focus on enjoying my freedom with my family.”
It’s not yet known if Myers and Williams will sue the state for their wrongful convictions. Under Florida law, they could be entitled to a maximum sum of $2 million each in compensation. But even that figure seems paltry when considering the lives they both missed out on while stuck behind bars for crimes that they didn’t commit.