Virginia Supreme Court approves ‘Waverly Two’ appeal

George Copeland Jr. | 3/2/2023, 6 p.m.
The Supreme Court of Virginia has approved a hearing for an appeal that could lead to the exoneration of a …

The Supreme Court of Virginia has approved a hearing for an appeal that could lead to the exoneration of a Sussex County man sentenced to life in jail for a murder he was acquitted of decades earlier.

Last Friday, New York Attorney Jarrett Adams announced that the Supreme Court had granted an appeal for a petition filed by Terrence Richardson, who was sentenced to life with Ferrone Claiborne for the murder of Waverly County Police Officer Allen W. Gibson in 1998.

The decision came 10 days after Mr. Adams, who represents the families of Mr. Richardson and Mr. Claiborne, presented his arguments for an evidentiary hearing to three Supreme Court justices.

“Arguments are subject to the Court’s docketing, but Mr. Richardson is hopeful that his case will be heard on the June or September docket,” Mr. Adams said. “This unusually quick decision is a significant victory for Mr. Richardson in his effort to prove his innocence in the Virginia Courts.”

Mr. Richardson, 27 at the time of the murder, and Mr. Claiborne, who was 22, initially pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in state court in 1999, as part of a plea deal to avoid the death penalty. Two years later, a federal judge sentenced them to life in prison after charging Mr. Richardson and Mr. Claiborne with conspiracy to distribute drugs.

While a jury had acquitted the two of Officer Gibson’s murder in 1999, the judge cited their earlier guilty pleas as cause in

the conviction. Mr. Richardson and Mr. Claiborne would begin their effort to be exonerated years later after it was revealed that evidence had been withheld from their lawyers, including false statements given by a key witness.

Mr. Richardson and Mr. Claiborne’s efforts have garnered them multiple high-profile supporters, including former state Delegate Jerrauld C. Jones and the Virginia NAACP. A major advocate was former Attorney General Mark R. Herring, who wrote a 78-page brief supporting Mr. Richardson’s petition, and whose Conviction Integrity Unit spent months investigating the case and the facts surrounding it.

“It is clear from the record that some information and evidence presented in Mr. Richardson’s federal trial was unavailable to him when he pled guilty in state court,” Mr. Herring wrote in his brief.

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

The Attorney General’s Office support ended, however, when Attorney General Jason Miyares assumed the role in 2022, leading to a quick reversal in their advocacy for Mr. Richardson and Mr. Claiborne.

Mr. Richardson’s opening brief is due in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, April 5, and both he and Mr. Claiborne are also waiting for any response to their Presidential Clemency Petition.