Guilty Until Proven Innocent: The Story of James Joseph Richardson

Welcome back to Murder Monday, ya’ll. I’m going to break my pattern on local cases and sexually motivated crimes this week, which should make this one easier to get through for some of you. Unfortunately, this case is beyond fucked for many other reasons.

This case involves the deaths of numerous children, racial discrimination, and the flaws of our criminal justice system.

I have taken a particular interest in wrongful conviction cases recently, thanks to “Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom” by Revolver Podcasts. So I did some googling, and came across the particularly interesting case of James Joseph Richardson.

The United States has the highest rates of incarceration in the world, with around 2 million of its citizens currently behind bars. 1 percent of these convictions (approximately 20,000 people) are wrongfully convicted – 1 for every 25 convicts on death row are incarcerated for crimes that they did not commit. 4.1% of defendants on death row are proven guilty before meeting their death, thanks to organizations such as The Innocence Project. Since 1973, only 144 defendants sentenced to death in the U.S have been exonerated, which leaves an unknown number of innocent inmates who have met their death thanks to the death penalty.

I personally am all for capital punishment, and if you’ve read some of my prior posts on here you may already know that. I want every murderer, sex offender, and child abuser to watch that needle hit their vein, to feel their insides burn until their heart stops. I want every murderer to face a firing squad and watch the blood flow from their wounds as they take their final breath. I want every sex offender to stare into the eyes the person controlling their death, and feel the fear that their victims felt while they inflicted themselves upon them. I want every single child abuser to suffocate through inhaling toxic gas until they fucking croak. In my opinion, in a perfect world – it would be much easier to just kill off those sickos, and save the innocent. Unfortunately, just as much as it has helped us, our criminal justice system has failed us time and time again. Resulting in wrongful convictions, death sentences placed upon the innocent, and even worse – the real monsters that committed these crimes are still out there, free to rape, abuse, and kill. So before I continue, I encourage you to check out some of the links at the bottom of this post and donate to one of these projects for innocent inmates, or at the very least, take some time to read about the cases and educate yourselves.

African Americans are only 13% of the American population but a majority of innocent defendants wrongfully convicted of crimes and later exonerated are black males. They constitute 47% of the 1,900 total exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations (as of October 2016). Just because they have been exonerated does not justify that innocent people have spent time in prison. This should never happen in the first place.

Meet James Joseph Richardson.

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Arcadia, Florida – 1967

James Joseph Richardson was a migrant farm worker, working on an orange grove. He and his wife, Annie Mae Richardson, had 5 children together. Annie Mae had two children from a previous marriage, and they raised the seven children together, who ranged in age from 2-8.

October 25, 1967

James and Annie Mae were sent word that one of their children had fallen ill, and they left the groves to report to the hospital. It was unknown to them at the time, but six of their children were already deceased by the time they arrived. Their seventh and only remaining child would pass away the next day. They died after eating a poisoned lunch containing the organic phosphate pesticide parathion.

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The couple’s neighbor, Bessie Reece, took care of the three youngest children while the other four attended school. That day, the children returned home from school to Bessie and their siblings at lunch time. They ate a meal of rice and beans that their mother had prepared for them the night before and returned to school. The children started displaying strange symptoms and a concerned teacher brought it to the attention of the principle, who decided to take the four sick children to the hospital. Another teacher went to their home to check on the other children, and found them to be ill as well. All seven children, from 2 years old to 8 years old, would pass away in the next 24 hours.

‭Joseph H. Minoughan of the Arcadia Police Department was the first officer to arrive at the hospital. After determining that all of the children were from the same family, he headed to the home to search for any evidence. All he found in relation to poison was a type of bug repellent that was not related to the chemicals found in the children. Four officers searched the family home on five separate occasions and no poison of any kind was found – until the next day, when a two pound sack of parathion was discovered in the shed out behind the house. The police immediately suspected that whoever placed the bag there must have been the murderer – but Bessie Reece (the children’s babysitter) started pointing fingers at random locals.

The day after this, Officer Cline (an investigating detective on the case) came forward with news that James Richardson had discussed life insurance policies on the children the night before their poisoning. Yet statements from Richardson and his insurance salesmen were conflicting. The children’s funeral was held at the end of the week, and two days later Cline charged Robinson with seven counts of murder. The town started buzzing that Cline was just looking for a big break to have his name noticed in the police department.

During the trial, accusations of Richardson having children who passed away in another state came out, but were never confirmed. The insurance salesmen was brought to the stand, but it was never determined if he was invited to the Richardson home or if he was soliciting door to door the night before. Evidence of Bessie Reece being out on parole was released, but reasons for her prior convictions were not specified. The judge provided evidence of Annie Mae and James both taking lie detector tests, which indicated that James “had knowledge” of the poisoning.

After hearing that the judge in Richardson’s case was so openly accusing him of being guilty, John S. Robinson (a 30-year-old white lawyer) came forward offering help. He told Richardson he believed his case was being handled poorly, and offered to reach out to the NAACP for help as well. Richardson accepted this support and chose Robinson as his lawyer. Richardson confided in Robinson that Officer Cline has repeatedly called him the N-word, and told him to plea guilty to get an easier sentence. He was pushing him, and Robinson wouldn’t allow that. He was able to have Richardson’s bail dropped from the initial $100,000 down to $7,500 and Richardson was released on bail.

James Joseph Richardson was sentenced to death for the murders of his children, but was saved in 1972 when the U.S Supreme Court ruled the death penalty as “unconstitutional.” He was still in for a life in prison, and would be eligible for parole in 1993.

He was convicted guilty by a jury of peers that was entirely Caucasian.

1988

Remember the babysitter of the children who had last seen them during lunch? The babysitter who was out on parole for unknown crimes? Bessie Reece was living in an assisted living home with Alzheimer’s disease, and reportedly admitted to the murders hundreds of times — but no one ever took her seriously due to her mental illness. Bessie Reece was a convicted murderer who had killed her husband 10 years prior, and guess how she did it? You nailed it – poison. She died in 1992 before her confessions were ever further investigated. The word of her prior conviction and her confessions got around, and efforts to free James Richardson were sparked back up yet again.

1989

October 25, 1989, a hearing was held in Arcadia in the same courthouse where Richardson had been convicted more than 21 years earlier. His lawyers presented the insufficient evidence and testimony used to sentence their client, and spoke of the grave injustices he faced in prison. There was evidence of a cover-up by Sheriff Frank Cline, State Attorney Frank Schaub and his deputy, Treadwell, as well as the local judge. It was determined that Richardson did not have a fair trial, and he was released to the custody of his lawyers.

Richardson found a job working on a health resort, but unfortunately was struggling with his health and mental state and it did not last very long. His wife Annie Mae who had remained faithful for most of his time in prison, decided to divorce him. Shortly after, he had another heart attack – he had already suffered through one in prison, and received open heart surgery in the prison hospital. Richardson filed a claim under Florida’s wrongful conviction compensation law, which provides compensation for wrongful imprisonment of $50,000 a year. It is unclear whether he ever received this. In 2014, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law House Bill 227 – which provides compensation to a wrongfully incarcerated person who was convicted and sentenced prior to December 31, 1979, and who is otherwise exempt from other state provisions for compensation because the case may have been reversed by a special prosecutor’s review and nolle prosequi rather than being overturned by a court. The law is so narrowly circumscribed that it is likely that Richardson will be the only individual eligible for compensation under it. He was expected to be awarded $1.2 million – yet he never received any of it.

This innocent man had his young children murdered in his own home – poisoned right under his nose. He buried seven tiny caskets, and was arrested two days later. He served over 20 years in prison, some of which on death row, for crimes that he did not commit. He suffered from violence in prison and botched surgeries for his heart conditions. He lost his wife, his home, the job he loved. He sat in a jail cell for 20 years staring at a wall, with no sunlight, for almost 8,000 days. He used to get paid to pick oranges on the grove in the sunlight every day before traveling home to his seven children and the love of his life. His life, his loves, everything he once knew, was stolen from him. And for absolutely no fucking reason.

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There are cases far more captivating then this, such as Making a Murderer, The Staircase, Amanda Knox, Casey Anthony, The Keepers – you know, a list of white people who very clearly committed the crimes at hand but for some reason have thousands of people rooting for their innocence and dumping millions of dollars into making documentaries about them. These cases, whether you believe the defendants to be guilty or not, were supported by factual concrete evidence in a court of law. This is presented to you in the documentaries – and I’m not saying I believe every single one of them to be guilty, but it is up to you to decide whether you believe them or not. Now, if a documentary paints the defendant as innocent, you’re probably going to believe that they are innocent. Just like if you are on the jury, in the courthouse, and the prosecution paints the defendant to be guilty. It is the right of every convict to face a fair trial. That is how this is supposed to work.

No one ever served time for the murder for the seven Richardson children, all under the age of 8. So again, in choosing which wrongful convictions to support, please remember the urgency of the innocent inmates being proved innocent. For every day that the wrongfully convicted are locked away, the real monsters walk free with another chance to kill or assault. There are so many factors to the importance of contributing to the research and funds for the release of the innocent.

Being an inmate in California for one year, as of 2017, costs more then a years tuition at Harvard University ($75,000). The average taxpayer cost for inmates nationwide is around $31,000 per inmate a year. In a recent study, after death penalty case costs were counted through to execution, there was said to be a median cost of $1.26 million. Non-death penalty case costs were counted through to the end of incarceration, the median cost was $740,000.

Take some time to educate yourself and donate money or even just time to some of these projects for the innocent. You are already currently paying for their incarceration with your tax dollars.

https://www.innocenceproject.org

See you next week.

Sources:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Joseph_Richardson

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/07/519012758/black-people-are-wrongly-convicted-of-murder-more-often-data-shows

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