WAVERLY, Va. (WRIC) — The mother of one of the “Waverly Two” is overjoyed to have the support of Attorney General Mark Herring in her fight to free her son from prison. The mother and the Virginia NAACP are now hoping a state court moves quickly to right, what they call, a wrong.
The Waverly Two, Ferrone Claiborne and Terrence Richardson, were found not guilty of the murder of a Waverly police officer in 1998. However, they were sentenced to life in prison in a strange turn of events.
Earlier this month, Attorney General Herring joined the men in a petition asking the Virginia Court of Appeals to overturn the state convictions of at least one of the men in the case. If the court agrees, it could open the door to reversing a federal sentence and set the Waverly Two free after 24 years behind bars.
Brenda Allen, Claiborne’s mother, says she was ecstatic when she heard the news.
“I was just so happy. I was overwhelmed,” she said.
Allen dreams of her son walking out of prison.
“I am gonna hug him so long until he gets tired of me,” said Allen, who has always believed her son was framed for a crime he didn’t commit.
“They were railroaded, both Ferrone and Terrance,” Allen said.
It’s an unusual case. A federal jury found Claiborne and Terrence Richardson not guilty of the murder of Officer Allen Gibson, but the men took a plea deal in a state court prior to that case. Claiborne’s conviction was a misdemeanor while Richardson pled guilty to a felony.
“They didn’t have a bunch of resources to hire a bunch of lawyers,” said Jarrett Adams, their current attorney.
He tells WFXR’s sister station, WRIC, that knowing the case couldn’t be tried again at the state level, authorities at the time went after the men in federal court. They were indicted on a conspiracy to distribute drugs charge. Both Claiborne and Richardson have always maintained their innocence on both the drugs and the murder charges.
“They basically came up with a drug charge in order to retry them for the murder of this police officer,” Adams said.
While that federal jury found the men not guilty of murdering Gibson, the jury did convict them on the drug charges. In sentencing, though, the judge used that state court plea deal to put both men behind bars for life.
In 2017, a WRIC investigation uncovered a number of holes in the case, including a lack of physical evidence to tie Claiborne or Richardson to the murder.
“The justice system is broken,” said Robert Barnett President of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP.
The group is advocating for a fair judicial process and hopes the Virginia Court of Appeals rules swiftly on the Attorney General’s recent finding.
In the Attorney General’s response to the men’s request for exoneration, it states that “Mr. Richardson should be granted a writ of actual innocence.”
“He is the lawyer of the state,” Adams said.
The court records only mention Richardson because Claiborne’s conviction was for a lesser charge, a misdemeanor. If Richardson is granted innocence, Adams believes Claiborne will be cleared too.
He tells WFXR’s sister station that if those state convictions don’t exist, there is nothing to keep the men behind bars after all these years. If the court grants the writ of innocence, Adams plans to take on the federal court sentence immediately.
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