(WRIC/WFXR) — New evidence has been uncovered in the decades-old murder of a white Virginia police officer. The two Black men behind bars for it are now asking a Virginia court to reverse their convictions.
The two men, Ferrone Claiborne and Terrence Richardson are currently locked up in a federal prison in Petersburg conspiracy to sell crack cocaine and for the murder of Waverly police officer Allen Gibson. WFXR’s sister-station WRIC first began digging into this case and raising questions about it four years ago.
The new evidence and new statements revealed in the new court filing point to a new suspect says Claiborne and Richardson’s attorney Jarrett Adams. His clients have always maintained they had nothing to do with the 1998 murder of Gibson.
During an interview in 2017, Richardson said, “I have been sitting in here for 18 years for something I didn’t even do.”
In 2017, Claiborne also said did not murder Gibson, saying, “I will fight this till the end.”
Now, they’ve filed petitions for writs of innocence in a Virginia Court of Appeals.
“We are a step closer to what we finally hope is, justice,” said Adams.
The case has always been an unusual case. A federal jury actually found the men not guilty of the murder, but the judge used a plea deal the two men took in state court to sentence them to life behind bars. Now, they’re seeking exoneration from that state conviction in hopes of one day walking free.
“The true perpetrators were not brought to justice,” said Adams.
Gibson was gunned down while on duty in a wooded area in Waverly. The officer’s dying words were two black males are responsible, one with dreadlocks.
While neither 27-year-old Richardson or 22-year-old Claiborne had dreadlocks and there was no physical evidence to tie the men to the case, they emerged as suspects. Yet, the new evidence in the court filings points to another suspect, a suspect the Commonwealth’s Attorney at the time now admits he had no knowledge of.
According to Adams, “This filing contains three critical pieces of new evidence.”
First, a hand-written letter from an eyewitness that WFXR’s sister station first uncovered in the initial investigation back in 2017. The witness wrote, “saw a man with dreads.”
The second piece of evidence is a photo line-up in which that witness picked out, not Claiborne or Richardson, but a man with dreadlocks.
The third piece of evidence was an anonymous tip left on a Virginia State Police answering machine naming the same man identified in the photo line-up.
“We know that this suspect was never interviewed by the Commonwealth’s Attorney,” said Adams.
In an affidavit, the Commonwealth’s Attorney at the time, David Chappell, wrote to the best of his recollection, “I do not recall receiving information that any person identified someone other than the defendants.”
“None of this information was turned over to the defense,” Adams said.
In an affidavit from Richardson’s attorney at the time, David Boone, he too says none of this evidence was ever shared with him. He also states if he had known about it, he would have changed his trial strategy and he would have never advised his client to take the guilty plea deal in state court. Boone had recommended the deal at the time because the men were facing a death sentence if convicted.
Richardson told sister station WRIC back in 2017 he remembers what his attorney told him.
“He said if you go to trial and you mess around and you lose, you could get the death penalty,” said Richardson.
However, it was a deal at the Sussex County Courthouse that a federal judge would later use to tack on to a drug conviction.
In a rare move in the sentencing phase, the judge used the state court convictions as a cross-reference to lock both men up for good. He did this even though the federal jury acquitted them of the murder of Gibson.
Dawn White sat on that jury.
In an interview with her in 2017, White said, “As I recall, no one ever thought they were guilty of murder.”
Adams was wrongfully convicted of a crime and spent time behind bars before he got his conviction reversed with the help of the Innocence Project. After that experience, he became a lawyer to fight for justice for others. It’s why he has taken on Claiborne and Richardson’s case and why he’s now asking a Virginia Court to reverse the state convictions for Claiborne and Richardson.
“They pled guilty when clear evidence of their innocence was held from them,” said Adams.
In the petition to the court, he writes, “The state court guilty pleas are the lynchpin of [Mr. Claiborne’s] federal life sentence.”
“It is undisputed that they did not get a fair shake at justice,” Adams told WFXR’s sister station.
Sister station WRIC asked the current Sussex Commonwealth’s Attorney Vincent Robertson if with this new evidence surfacing and this new court filing if he might join in this motion, but their calls and emails were not returned.
WFXR’s sister station also asked Attorney General Mark Herring’s Office if their new Conviction Integrity Unit would take on this case.
In a statement, Herring’s Communications Director Charlotte Gomer said, “We are aware of this matter and the Conviction Integrity Unit has been looking into it for quite some time. It’s important to note that these two men were charged with and convicted of federal crimes and are serving federal sentences, not state sentences, so an ultimate resolution would have to come through the federal courts. The two men have now filed petitions for writs of actual innocence in state court challenging some underlying state convictions that contributed to the length of their sentences, so the next step will be for Virginia’s Court of Appeals to review the petitions and either resolve them on its own or ask for a response from the Commonwealth.”
WRIC also reached out to Gibson’s daughter for comment. She declined, but she said once before she wants the persons responsible held accountable.