April 25

This Day in History

Crime

Apr 25, 1989:

A father is exonerated after 21 years

James Richardson walks out of a Florida prison 21 years after being wrongfully convicted of killing his seven children. Special prosecutor Janet Reno agreed to the release after evidence showed that the conviction resulted from misconduct by the prosecutor. In addition, neighbor Betsy Reese had confessed to the crime to a nursing home employee.

On October 25, 1967, James and his wife, Annie, were working in a field picking fruit when Reese came over to heat up a meal for the Richardsons' seven kids. After they finished eating, the children began foaming at the mouth. They were dead moments later from poisoning. Police found that the rice and beans had been laced with the pesticide parathion. Reese then reported that she saw a bag of the poison in a shed behind the Richardsons' home.

Police discovered that an insurance salesman had visited the Richardsons' home shortly before the poisoning and that James had discussed life insurance for the entire family. The prosecution made a big deal of this fact at trial but neglected to inform the jury that the salesman had made an unsolicited visit and that Richardson never bought the insurance because he couldn't afford the premiums. The prosecutors also introduced three convicts who claimed that Richardson had admitted to the mass murder while he was being held in jail. It was later revealed that this testimony was manufactured in return for leniency on their sentences.

The jurors were not told about Reese's criminal history. She was on parole at the time for killing her second husband and was suspected of killing her first husband with poison. After less than an hour and a half of deliberation, the jury convicted Richardson and sentenced him to the electric chair.

After Richardson's release in 1989, the governor of Florida ordered an investigation into the prosecutor's office to discover what prompted the miscarriage of justice.

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