NAACP, Herring support innocence claims of the Waverly Two

George Copeland Jr. | 12/9/2021, 6 p.m.
More than 20 years after two men were sentenced to prison for convictions stemming from the slaying of a Waverly …

More than 20 years after two men were sentenced to prison for convictions stemming from the slaying of a Waverly police officer, a new effort has emerged that could grant them their innocence and freedom.

Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring has put his sup- port behind an innocence petition seeking ultimately to overturn the manslaughter convictions Terrence J. Richardson and Fer- rone Claiborne received in state court and their life sentences in federal court in the case involving the 1998 shooting death of Waverly Police Officer Allen W. Gibson.

Officer Gibson was shot with his own gun during a struggle with two men he believed were involved in a drug deal in a wooded area behind a Waverly apartment complex. Mr. Richardson and Mr. Claiborne pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in Sussex County Circuit Court in a plea deal to avoid the death penalty.

However, after their 1999 convictions in state court, federal authorities also charged them in the case. While they were ac- quitted of aiding and abetting in the murder of Officer Gibson during drug trafficking, they were convicted in federal court of conspiracy to distribute drugs.

U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne sentenced them to life in prison in 2001, citing their guilty pleas in state court related to Officer Gibson’s murder.

“This injustice started in Virginia, and that is the only way that it leads up to the federal court to free both men from their unjust bondage,” New York attorney Jarrett Adams, who represents the Richardson and Claiborne families, said in a news conference held Nov. 30 by the Virginia State Conference NAACP.

Mr. Herring’s involvement comes as a result of the petition of innocence Mr. Richardson and Mr. Claiborne filed earlier this year asking the Virginia Court of Appeals to overturn their convic- tions. As attorney general, Mr. Herring’s office investigated the case and responded with a motion in support of their innocence claim based on newly discovered evidence that was withheld from Mr. Richardson’s and Mr. Claiborne’s lawyers.

Had the information been known, they would not have pleaded guilty in state court, Mr. Adams said.

“No rational fact-finder would have found Richardson guilty had that information been presented in his proceeding in state court,” Mr. Herring wrote in his petition to the court. “The federal jury acquittal is conclusive in that regard.

“Based upon those facts, the new evidence presented in his federal trial and the federal jury’s acquittal, Mr. Richardson is entitled to a writ of actual innocence.”

Mr. Herring’s motion focuses only on the state court appeal. Mr. Adams is confident that a successful appeal could pave the way to a reversal of their conviction. The possibility of seeing long-overdue justice is almost indescribable for the families of the two men, from whom they have been separated for more than two decades.

“I was ecstatic,” Mr. Claiborne’s mother, Brenda Allen, said at the news conference when asked about her response to Mr. Herring’s motion. “I was just so happy that I was overwhelmed, that finally they might be taking a look to see that my son and Terrence are innocent.”

Mr. Adams also is confident that the appeal will continue to be supported regardless of the change in attorney general early next year. In November, Mr. Herring lost his bid for re-election to Jason Miyares, an attorney and Republican member of the House of Delegates from Virginia Beach. Attorney General-elect Miyares is to take office on Jan. 15.

Robert N. Barnette Jr., president of the Virginia State Conference NAACP, pledged that the group would remain an active part of the effort to ensure Mr. Richardson and Mr. Claiborne are freed.

“Going forward, we’ll continue to support Attorney Adams in this case, making sure that these two young men get released,” Mr. Barnette said. “We’ll also be talking with legislators in the Virginia General Assembly about the injustice of this particular case and other cases that are brought to our attention.”