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2 Sussex County men stand by their innocence after spending more than two decades behind bars

Terrence Richardson and Ferrone Claiborne are serving life in prison for a crime they say they didn’t commit.
Credit: Studio_East - stock.adobe.com

WAVERLY, Va. — A petition could soon bring two Sussex County men closer to freedom.

Terrence Richardson and Ferrone Claiborne are serving life in prison for a crime they say they didn’t commit.

“They absolutely had nothing to do with this conviction, this case, this allegation at all. They were just two young Black men in a situation that has historically has happened to Black men all across this nation,” said Jarrett Adams, an attorney representing Claiborne and Richardson.

The crime happened in 1998. A newly hired Waverly police officer was shot and killed on the job. Back then, police department leaders said Allen Gibson was doing what he did a lot, which was working to solve crimes in an apartment complex. He left behind an eight-year-old daughter.

Sussex deputies ended up charging Claiborne and Richardson. 23 years later, both men maintain their innocence.

“The two men were basically coerced into taking guilty pleas,” Adams said. “The ultimately plead guilty and these guilty pleas led them on a trajectory that got them indicted in a federal court based off of these guilty pleas and made up drug charges.”

A judge sentenced Claiborne and Richardson to life in prison. They are currently serving their sentences at FCI Petersburg Medium.

Claiborne’s mother said it’s been a long and hard 23 years.

“It has been a very very hard road, she said. “I really can’t explain what I feel when it comes to this whole case.”

There’s a petition filed in the Virginia Court of Appeals to overturn their state convictions and release both men. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring filed a motion in support.

Adams said, “This is historic. This doesn’t happen every day that an attorney general is agreeing. You usually have attorney generals that will not contest but it’s very rare that they come out in 70+ pages and say, 'Yeah, you know what, they are right.'”

Adams said it’s a waiting game to see what happens next.

“We are waiting on the appellate court to either rule on the motions in writing or to order an evidentiary hearing that will take place in Sussex County, in the same court which they were convicted.”

Claiborne’s mother is hoping to soon hug her son outside of prison.

Allen said, “Thank God that he will finally be free. Praise God, that’s what I’m going to do first and then I’m going to hug him so long until he’s going to get tired of me.”

Virginia NAACP leaders said they won’t stop advocating for a fair judicial process and making sure the justice system works for everybody.