TALLAHASSEE — In the waning hours of the legislative session, state lawmakers signed off on bill that could allow a 78-year-old man to receive payment for the 21 years he wrongly served in prison after his seven children died of poisoning.
James Richardson, who was released after then-Gov. Bob Martinez ordered a special investigation, could receive $1.2 million.
Richardson’s seven children died in 1967, in Arcadia, from insecticide placed in their lunch. In 1968, long before DNA testing, he was convicted of one of the deaths and later nearly was executed. Richardson was released in 1989, after Martinez appointed a special prosecutor — then-State Attorney Janet Reno of Miami, later U.S. Attorney General — and his sentence was vacated.
“I’ve been wrongly accused, I’ve been left on Death Row and had one hour to die in the electric chair, and I prayed to fulfill my need,” Richardson said Thursday at the Capitol. “Sometimes my fellow men have let me down, but God have lift(ed) me up.”
House sponsor Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, said the measure was narrowly tailored, and Richardson, who was a farm worker when his children died, would be the first person to apply under the bill if Gov. Rick Scott signs the measure into law.
During Richardson’s incarceration, suspicion fell on a baby-sitter for his children, but she never was charged.
The bill unanimously passed the Senate late Friday, after previously passing the House unanimously. House Speaker Will Weatherford welcomed Richardson, who now lives in Kansas, to the chamber on Thursday.
“There’s no question that anybody could ever imagine the pain that you endured, sir,” Weatherford said. ... “But what we know how to do is bring justice to the situation and honor to you, and you honor us with your presence.”
The Senate echoed those sentiments.
Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said Richardson was extraordinary for “the joy he’s found in life with all the bad experiences he’s had.”
“He’s truly humble, with no ill will for anybody for the years he spent behind bars,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.