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Attorney urges a ruling on the case of two Virginia men found not guilty but sentenced to life

Family photos
Terrence Richardson with mother Annie Westbrook (left), Ferrone Claiborne and his mother (right). (Photos courtesy the the law offices of Jarrett Adams, PLLC)

Attorney Jarrett Adams is asking the Virginia Court of Appeals to rush a decision on the unusual case of his clients Terrence Richardson and Ferrone Claiborne. The two Black men have served more than 20 years in federal prison for the 1998 murder of Alan Gibson, a Waverly, Virginia police officer - despite a federal jury finding them “not guilty” of the crime. 

Both pleaded guilty to the murder in state court, accepting plea deals to avoid a possible death sentence.  A few years later, federal prosecutors tacked on drug trafficking charges landing both of them in federal court. The jury found them not guilty of the murder, but guilty of a single drug charge that Adams said was based on no physical evidence. The charge would normally result in about 10 years in prison, but the judge increased and enhanced their sentence based on their earlier state guilty pleas. 

“So they did what they felt was necessary to save their lives only to have their lives unjustly taken later on,” Adams said. “We are praying that the appellate court will act on this petition and do it expeditiously.”

Richardson and Claiborne are seeking exoneration from the state conviction in hopes of one day walking free. 

“We want people to understand that the reason why they have been in prison for so long - the reason why they were wrongfully convicted is because no one was watching and asking questions,” Adams said during a press conference Tuesday. 

The appellate court agreed to consider the petition in April.  

The case has the backing of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP and the office of Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who filed a lengthy brief in support of Richardson. 

Herring will be stepping down in January when Republican Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares assumes office. A spokesperson for Miyares sent in the following statement:

"Violent crimes - particularly the murders of police officers, who risk their lives daily to protect ours - must be investigated thoroughly and enforced to the fullest extent of the law. Attorney General-elect Miyares has been actively looking through all the cases currently being handled by Attorney General Herring's administration. Once sworn in, Attorney General Miyares and his team will look into this case themselves to ensure justice is served to both the victims and defendants."

Adams said he doesn’t think Miyares is someone who would “ignore injustice.” 

Claiborne’s mother Brenda Allen said the case is wearing on her. “I mean, this is 23 years. I mean, come on...It's very hard on my children, my grandchildren, everybody. It’s just hard,” she said. 

Adams acknowledged the suffering of Gibson’s family. He said if his clients did not commit this murder, the person who did should be brought to justice. 

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.